Rossini L'assedio di Corinto
Le siege de Corinthe (Paris, 1826) is a compelling piece, a theatrically effective rewriting of the monumental Maometto II (Naples, 1820) that has always struck me as succeeding musically and dramatically in ways that Rossini's other Paris revision—Mose in Egitto into Moise et Pharaon— singularly fails to do. Where Moise bloats and distorts its source, Le siege simplifies and intensifies it.
One of the undeniable merits of this 1974 HMV recording was its general theatricality and fervour. Whatever reservations one might have about the edition Thomas Schippers concocted—and they are legion—there is no denying the intensity with which he and his cast set about committing it to record. In all this, live theatrical experience was obviously a help. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the production on which the recording is based was extensively played in Milan and New York.
The principal objection to Schippers's edition, apart from the obvious one of the opera being sung in Italian translation, is the degree to which the essential clarity and simplicity of the Paris revision has been compromised not only by reversions to the Maometto score but also by additions to the opera from sources that have nothing whatever to do with either Maometto II or Le siege de Corinthe. Of course, there is precedent in plenty in Rossini's own career for houses adapting operas to the needs of particular artists. In this case, though, neither Beverly Sills nor her advisers seem to know when to call it a day. Despite an essentially light voice, Sills often sings slower music with her own special kind of emotional inwardness. The pyrotechnics, by contrast, are not only at odds with Rossini's French manner; they are often unlovely in their own right.
Shirley Verrett is an impressive Neocle; but here is the biggest anachronism of all. Rossini specifically recast the travesti role of Calbo in Maometto Il for a tenor (Neocles). Donizetti reverted to the travesti version in a production of
Fans of Sills and Verrett will want this set, as will the incurably curious. In reality, though, it is no more than an eccentric footnote in the history of Rossini on record. Better buy Maometto II (Philips, 9/85) and pray that Chelsea Opera have shamed someone somewhere into making a premiere recording of Le siege de Corinthe as Paris first heard it in 1826.'