Lauro Rossi (1812-85) sounds a thoroughly good egg. He was successful as a composer of operas – mainly, it seems, neo-Donizettian comedies – until a flop in 1834 led him to Mexico, Cuba and the United States as a conductor and impresario. He and his wife, a singer, returned to Italy in 1843, where his composing career took off again. By the end of the decade his reputation was high enough to secure him
the post of director of the Milan Conservatory, where he pursued what the scholar Julian Budden described as a liberal policy. Rossi published what became a standard treatise on harmony and was an advocate of the study and performance of early music. In 1870 he became director of the Conservatory in Naples.
Rossi is a forgotten figure today, except possibly as one of the contributors to the abortive project, proposed by Verdi, to commemorate Rossini with a Requiem. So much praise to the organisers of the Opera Festival at Macerata, Rossi’s birthplace, for their enterprise in staging Cleopatra in 2008; and to Naxos for issuing this recording taken from the two performances.
Cleopatra was Rossi’s penultimate opera, performed in Turin in 1876; the European premiere of Aida was in 1872. Comparisons are inevitable and it must be said that Rossi was no Verdi. Cleopatra’s aria in Act 2, well enough shaped, sounds second-hand compared with, say, Aida’s “O patria mia”. But there are some strongly dramatic scenes, such as where Cleopatra improbably turns up in Rome intending to murder Mark Antony’s wife: her two-octave drop at “Sì, Cleopatra!” leads to a powerful “ensemble of perplexity”, Rossi the academic then stepping forward with a fugal passage at “Trema, Roma”.
There are no outstanding voices but the performance is strong enough to appeal to anyone curious about the byways of 19th-century opera. No libretto is provided in the booklet (although it as available online) and the same production is available on a Naxos DVD.