- Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
- Video Codec: AVC/MPEG-4
- Resolution: 1080i/60
- Audio Codec: LPCM 2.0, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
- Subtitles: English, French, German
- Region: ABC (Region-Free)
- Running Time: 170 minutes
- Rating: Not Rated
- Discs: 1 (1 x Blu-ray)
- Studio: Opus Arte
- Blu-ray Release Date: January 29, 2013
- List Price: $29.99
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The Rossini Opera Festival, held in the composer’s hometown of Pesaro, Italy, presents Rossini’s version of the great Hebrew Exodus as Mosè in Egitto (Moses in Egypt). Those familiar with the Book of Exodus will immediately recognize the gist of the plot as plagues visited upon the Egyptians by Moses (Riccardo Zanellato) convince Pharaoh (Alex Exposito) that the Hebrews must be allowed to leave the country. Before this can occur, the curse of darkness must be lifted and the sun must shine again. Moses is warned by brother Aaron (Yijie Shi) not to trust the Pharaoh, and this proves highly prophetic. For dramatic purposes, subplots include a love affair between the Pharoah’s son Osiris (Dmitry Korchak) and the Hebrew girl Elcia (Sonia Ganassi) as well as the secret conversion of Pharoah’s wife Amalea (Olga Senderskaya) to Judaism. The Egyptian High Priest Mambre (Enea Scala) tries to scuttle the Hebrews’ escape but this move unleashes a vicious firestorm invoked by Moses. When the Hebrews are again prevented from leaving, Moses invokes another curse, the death of all first-born Egyptian sons. Moses is captured and Pharaoh orders Osris to issue the execution command. Before the order can be carried out, Osiris, a first-born son, is killed by a falling palace chandelier. The Hebrews are now in the desert (or in this case the walls of their camp) and have arrived at the Red Sea (the boundaries of the camp). They are being pursued by the Egyptian army led by the Pharaoh and Mambre. Moses opens a passageway with his rod, the Hebrews escape and the Egyptians are not drowned but blown away by an Israeli tank.
This is a very graphic and updated 2011 performance that portrays the Egyptians in modern Arabic/Western costumes while Moses and the Hebrews look more like Palestinian terrorists. Graham Vick and Stuart Nunn’s vision is very much of our times and makes the drama even more immediate. The singing is uniformly first rate and bouquets can be readily tossed to all of the principals.Roberto Abbado’s musical direction of the Bolognese musicians is superb in the best Rossinian tradition.
Opus Arte nearly always gives us outstanding video recordings and Mosé in Egitto is no exception. Colors are explosive and details are tops. The bloodstained clothes of the choristers who wander through the audience bring the age of terrorism in your face, not to mention the later appearance of suicide bombers. There are numerous contemporary props like a satellite dish, computers, a VW van, and Aaron holding a video camera. Camerawork on this busy stage is superb. Having the orchestra so close to the stage takes some getting used to but this is actually how it was done in Rossini’s day.
The audio engineers have given a bit more prominence to the voices than the orchestra. The surround DTS-HD Master Audio version is very clear and lets us hear many nice details in the score. The two-channel soundtrack is good, but lacks some of the depth of its counterpart.
Opus Arte gives us a nicely done twenty-minute featurette on The Making of Mosè in Egitto. I would consider this mandatory viewing given the significant new concept for this production. Further, it is a blueprint for how innovative productions should be introduced to a new audience. Commentary is provided by director Graham Vick, set and costume designer Stuart Nunn, maestro Robert Abbado, bass-baritone Riccardo Zanellato, mezzosoprano Sonia Ganassi, baritone Alex Esposito, tenor Dmitry Korchak There is also a cast gallery.
The Definitive Word
The Vick-Nunn complete dramatic remake of this nearly two hundred year old Rossini masterpiece is gripping, powerful and utterly creative. I have seen this opera in period costume and now think the dramatic team has used the staging to make this work relevant for our troubled times. The greatest achievement of the staging team is making everything work in an amphitheater designed for sports rather than opera. Of course, some of the special effects just do not work, like the parting of the Red Sea (a breach of the camp wall), certainly no The Ten Commandments wow factor here. On balance, though, there are far more hits than misses in the staged effects. I was initially disturbed by Zanellato’s costume and make up with its Osama bin Laden façade, but incongruously draped with a Hebrew prayer shawl. However, as the opera progressed, I never felt that this character was a two-bit terrorist with a base agenda of destruction. As explained in the featurette on this production, we will come to understand that there many shades of grey in the ancient and modern conflicts in the Middle East, and no clear-cut sides are taken. In the end, what really carries the day is the consistently gorgeous singing, dramatic intensity and spot on pacing of this production. Mosè in Egitto is as moving today as it was at its premiere in 1818 and I would encourage all opera fans to see this one now.
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