Gioacchino Rossini: Mosé

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Rossini wrote his grand opera, Mosè in Egitto, for Naples, but extensively revised it as Moïse et Pharoan for its 1827 Paris premiere, and it's the second version, in Italian translation, that's presented here. The recording comes from a live 1968 broadcast from Rome. The sound is clean for a live performance, with few distractions and good balance, but overall it's dinky sounding and somewhat distant. Once the ear has adjusted to the compromised acoustic, though, it's not hard to recognize this as a distinguished and exciting performance. The opera's centerpiece is Moses, and Nicolai Ghiaurov is a splendid protagonist with a charismatically commanding presence and a large, resonant voice that he uses with nobility and authority. His performance lends dramatic credibility to a plot that is essentially silly and jumbled, and his conviction, as well as that of the other performers, carries the opera. Soprano Teresa Zylis-Gara and tenor Ottavio Garaventa are lyrically compelling and fully convincing as the young lovers, singing with fullness and warmth. Shirley Verrett is also in strong form and brings passion and power to her role. As the Pharaoh, bass Mario Petri isn't in the league of the other principals, but he is respectably able to hold his own. Wolfgang Sawallisch leads the RAI Orchestra and Chorus, Rome, in a passionate and shapely reading of the richly varied score, which amply demonstrates Rossini's gift for writing music of real gravity. The opera has many lovely and powerful moments, particularly in its ensembles, and its musical value makes it a work that deserves to be better known.