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29.8.09

Muti Lets Rossini's 'Moïse' Go

Before Guillaume Tell, Rossini made several French adaptations of his earlier Italian operas for Paris, including one Moïse et Pharaon, reworked from Mosè in Egitto. The work has an influential champion in Riccardo Muti, who convinced Jürgen Flimm to mount the Parisian version of the opera -- ballets and all -- this summer at the Salzburg Festival. The financial crisis meant that the original production, to be directed by Pier Luigi Pizzi, had to be sacrificed, causing Flimm himself to step in and direct for free (well, he did pay himself 1 €). As reviewed by Nicolas Blanmont (Rossini, en version française, paraît-il, August 26) for La Libre Belgique, that is not the only cost-saving measure taken (my translation)

So Muti was in the pit, conducting with more competence than passion and more reason than brilliance. The Vienna Philharmonic was somptuous, of course, although audibly less comfortable with the Rossini flash than in the Germanic repertory of its tradition. On the production side, Flimm's work was not uninteresting in its interpretation of the characters (especially in the Egyptian family, with a capricious Aménophis struggling with his Oedipal complex between a colorless Pharaoh and a castrating mother), but does not go too deep into the political dimensions of the story (banal direction of the choral masses) or the symbolic ones (making the supernatural phenomena ordinary). The idea of giving the complete ballets without any choreography at all, in front of a lowered curtain on which the Biblical text (in German) was projected, relating the seven plagues of Egypt, was so un-theatrical that it smelled of economic cost-cutting.
While Blanmont could have perhaps suffered reducing the opera to a "bourgeois drama," he draws the line at "saving money" by not hiring a French coach for the singers. The cast was already "nothing special," he adds, aside from Marina Rebeka's Anaï and, eventually, Eric Cutler's Aménophis, but "most of the singers expressed themselves in an unintelligible pidgin French (sabir) deprived of any relation with our language." I know some French friends who would say similarly uncharitable things about what they speak in Belgium, but that is another story...

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