The Rossini Opera Festival presents a new edition of Le Siège de Corinthe, which represents a challenge for researchers – the late Philip Gosset is said to have called it "the impossible opera". No autograph score exists, and changes, cuts, and substitutions were made starting from the very first performances, which makes it difficult to put together an authoritative, philological version. The new edition is due to the efforts of French musicologist Damien Colas, one of the principal experts of Italian opera in Paris at the beginning of the 19th century, and it contains several additions and changes with respect to the previous one, performed in Pesaro in 2000.

<i>Le siège de Corinthe</i> © Amati Bacciardi
Le siège de Corinthe
© Amati Bacciardi

Le Siège was originally conceived as the French adaptation of the Italian opera Maometto II, but it soon became its own original creation. The writing was influenced by the tragic siege and fall of Missolonghi in 1825 during the Greek War of Independence against the Ottomans, which generated a wave of sympathy for the Greek cause in Europe (famously, Lord Byron joined the rebels and died in Missolonghi in 1824).

The production by La Fura del Baus strips the conflict down to its bare core: a fight for survival. Water, the primal element, indispensable to life, is the theme flowing through the performance: chorus members and actors carry large plastic water bottles, which, when emptied, are stacked to form walls and other architectonic elements on the stage. The chorus members often imitate waves with their bodies, and flowing water is shown in the videos projected on the background. The visual impact was impressive, and the peculiar aesthetics conveyed by staging director Carlus Padrissa and by Lita Cabellut's costumes were interesting and pleasing. The stage was a steeply inclined plane, which created some problems for the singers, it seemed, forcing them into awkward positions, with feet wide apart. The videos, as often happens, were somewhat distracting, but one effective idea was the projection of the words of a work by Byron, a depressing description of war, death and destruction, during the music for the wedding dances in Act 2.

<i>Le siège de Corinthe</i> © Amati Bacciardi
Le siège de Corinthe
© Amati Bacciardi

Roberto Abbado conducted the Orchestra Sinfonica Nazionale della RAI with only his left arm, his right one still in a sling after an injury suffered several months ago. His reading of the score was light, heroic and passionate at the same time. The performance of the chorus "Ventidio Basso" was remarkable and very precise; overall the ensemble was kept together by Abbado's capable hand, making the Act 2 finale the highlight of the opera, with chorus, orchestra and soloists coming together in an exciting explosion of emotions.

The strong cast was (somewhat strangely) led by two singers who are not Rossini specialists, but managed, in different ways, to give life to credible, emotionally charged characters. Luca Pisaroni was Mahomet II, the leader of the Muslim army attaching Corinth and lover of Pamyra, the daughter of the Corinthian king Cléomène. His coloratura was fast and secure, albeit not as crisp as Rossini requires. His voice had the usual beautiful, smooth colour, but his projection seemed to suffer in the unforgiving Adriatic Arena. At times he resorted to some nasal placement, maybe to solve the projection problem. Nino Machaidze was making her debut as Pamyra. Her voice has incredible piercing projection, and beautiful, secure high notes. What seemed to be lacking though was a true sense of phrasing and legato. This was especially evident in her last big aria, “Juste ciel!” Nevertheless, Mahomet and Pamyra were credible, emotional lovers; her embracement of patriotic duty both heroic and moving, his rage at her refusal to marry him fierce and intimidating.

Luca Pisaroni (Mahomet II) and Nino Machaidze (Pamyra) © Amati Bacciardi
Luca Pisaroni (Mahomet II) and Nino Machaidze (Pamyra)
© Amati Bacciardi

Tenor Sergey Romanovsky was a wonderful surprise. His top range came easily and strong, even the notes above high C, and, at the same time, his middle voice was powerful and gave solid support to his characterization of the Greek warrior Néoclès. His great aria of the third act was greeted with a warm applause, and he received the most enthusiastic cheer at curtain call.

Cléomène, King of Corinth and Pamyra's father, was John Irvin, another tenor, with a lower tessitura than Néoclès. His voice does not have the exciting edge of Romanovsky's, but he showed true elegance and beauty in the musical phrasing. Cecilia Molinari sang a very convincing Ismène, while Xabier Anduaga and Iurii Samoilov were appreciated in the minor roles of Adraste and Omar.

Bass Carlo Cigni was the authoritative priest Héros, the protagonist of one of the most impressive scenes of this production, during the invocation to God before the final battle. The whole theatre was turned into a church, and the audience itself was involved in the scene, with an unusual and emotional result.