Radio NZ Concert network
Sunday 9th of March 2008 at 3 pm
SYNOPSIS Maometto II (Secondo)
SYNOPSIS L'Assedio di Corinto
We call this opera by its French name Le siège de Corinthe, but the 1975 NY METROPERA recording, featuring the coloratura soprano Beverly Sills, is sung in Italian. This opera was first composed in Italian (1820, as Maometto Secondo, Mehmed II, about the Turks' attack on the Venetian city Negroponte in 1476, not 1746 as Wiki's misprint has it); it was rewritten in French for Paris (1826, so a ballet is added, or two), and then translated back into Italian (as L'Assedio di Corinto, The Siege of Corinth). And while the name of the Greek city Corinth is in the title, the story really relates to the siege and destruction of Messolonghi in 1822, during the Greek war of independence against the Turks in the 1820s.
All we ever hear of it is the overture to Le siège de Corinthe (Maometto Secondo did not have a prelude). It has a place in my vast collection of vinyl records (with its staccato motif Dum dum di dum dum and a 'lugubrious' Greek march) played by Neville Marriner and his ASMF band on a 1977 Philips disc (a set of two). Rossini wrote this especially for the opera; actually his overtures are interchangeable; he could easily have used the one from La Cenerentola (Cinderella, 1817), for example. Unlike Weber and Wagner, and Sullivan, he usually excluded references to tunes in the opera. Thus he moved the overture from Aureliano in Palmira (1813) to Elisabetta, Regina d'Inghilterra (Elizabeth, Queen of England, 1815), and when he thought they had forgotten it (Italians talk all the way through the prelude, anyway) he sneaked it onto The Barber of Seville. I got quite a shock when I first played my recording of Elizabeth (a serious drama, not a farce); I thought they had put the wrong discs into the box.
Endeavouring to get a complete set of Rossini's works I purchased Maometto Secondo, on three Philips compact discs: London's Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by the scholarly Claudio Scimone, with June Anderson as Anna Erisso; and in the role of the Turkish ruler (who had previously been the spy Uberto in Corinth and had become Anna's lover there, thus causing all the tensions when he invaded Negroponte) we have Samuel Ramey. Don't be afraid, he is noble and grave, and there is no hint of the terrifying wobble he now displays (as Kutuzov in War and Peace, for a recent instance).
Rossini uses a large orchestra for this, and he was getting a reputation like Berlioz and Wagner. Donizetti was examining one of Rossini's scores with an old musician, and when they saw 1.2.3. tromboni, the elderly gentleman fled, screaming '123 trombones!'. That sure beats the now proverbial 76 trombones, but it simply meant 1st, 2nd, and 3rd trombones. There is some impressive brass chorale work in M II; I hope it is still there in the Paris version.