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Mosè in Egitto

Rossini Opera Festival 2011
by Gioachino Rossini

ROSSINI OPERA FESTIVAL 2011
Pesaro, Adriatic Arena, August 11, 2011, Premiere.

The room lights are still on. The orchestra winding converges on the magnetic pole of the 440 Hertz, as a huge animal that slowly takes on the position of rest, before releasing all the energy it has.

The lights turn off. The opera begins. In the twilight painful figures hovering in the audience, showing pictures of missing relatives. Shortly after we see Egyptian soldiers with black uniforms, which ran through the audience, along orthogonal lines.

Suddenly stage lights turn on generously. The scene is built on several levels, through and supported by columns and a long curved staircase. On the upper floors the Egyptians live and work, at the bottom there are the Jews. The Egyptians wore the kefiah, the Jews long caftans. Moses, in particular, has a long dark beard and wears a military bomber jacket: too close to the king-of-terror-Bin-Laden to be a coincidence. We find out, therefore, little by little, the shrewd exegetical task proposed by the director Graham Vick: he identified the ancient Jews with the Palestinians today, the ancient Egyptians with the Israelis today! This is not the only striking metaphor, but seems to be the main idea of the British director's work on Rossini's opera.

Since there are two versions and four drafts made by Rossini on the same theme (Naples, 1818, 1819, Paris, 1827; Naples again, 1829) it needs to be said now: the opera we saw – at the ROF 2011 premiere – is the version that was staged in Naples in March 1819, with the famous prayer' addition "Dal tuo soglio stellato".

During the opera other signs arise, as much clear as the previous ones, a very close contemporary and then just as painful, albeit with a more episodic feature: see Jewish prisoners taken on a leash like a dog, to remind us of the atrocities committed at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib; see the firstborn Egyptians gassed, to remind us of the episodes at Dubrovka theatre in Moscow in 2002 and the Beslan school's siege in 2004; see Jews with belts flashing, to remind us suicide bombers loaded with explosives.

The audience has had conflicting reactions. Particularly at the end of the second act, I clearly heard a gentleman to my right shouting: "Shame!". An unbelievable voice that splitted the audience into two parts. Discussions, insults, epithets, among Vick's admirers and detractors: almost a start of rebellion! The police have had to intervene to restore calm. Evidently such explicit references to current events and deadly terrorist attacks in the past ten years, are still too recent things to be historicized. The so-called Western society is probably still in the process of mourning, and does not own in itself the right perspective distance to give it an objective reading. Despite the wrangling, abundant and uncontrollable applause came down, accompanied by the deep sound of the beats of the feet in the gallery. This testified the unconditional approval by the audience for the musical performers' work. What follows is my personal report card: conductor, very good; orchestra, very good; chorus, very good; soloists, excellent (outstanding Faraone by Alex ESPOSITO, and Elcia by Sonia Ganassi).

However, the tense mood felt for a long time into the room. Policemen in uniform are once again stepped in to quell further outbreaks of protest. Roberto Abbado, the conductor, deserves another praise, since he had the nerve to wait a very long time before starting the third and last act. He waited, motionless, until the extinction of the slightest noise into the room, to ensure maximum silence for the restart.

The third act was splendid. A crescendo of emotions from both theatrical and musical point of view. The Red Sea has been replaced by a wall, which immediately evokes the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem or the Gaza Strip barrier. But the wall is a very strong metaphor. How many walls, physical, political, social, psychological, set themselves up today! The Jews are pursued by the Egyptians. They flee across a gap, gain freedom. The gap widens and appears a loose thread that blocks the persecutors. The lights, properly used, reveal that it is a tank [sic!] with an Israeli flag. A final twist out of metaphors! An Israeli soldier leaves the tower, goes to the centre of the stage, where a child suicide bomber waits for him. He stretches his arm toward the child. He has something in his hand, looks like a gun. He approaches slowly, but seems to have no hostile intentions. Finally, we realize that the soldier is giving the child a chocolate bar. The boy hesitates a little, but ultimately takes it. Very touching.

Certainly Stuart Nunn and Giuseppe Di Iorio deserve praise too: the former designed sets and costumes, the latter designed the lights.

Since the rehearsal the director was accused of anti-Semitism, from different points. Especially because of the identification of Moses with Osama Bin Laden, but he seems rather to be a stand against all religious fundamentalism. We hear about it in his own words during the press conference: "I have no intent to cause or make someone angry - said Vick - I just tried to present all viewpoints in a balanced way and with many metaphors to put the emphasis on the fact that in all religions men think to have God on their side while deeds done in the name of God, are actually made by men." I do not believe that anti-Semitism can be related to Vick. In fact, he had set up in 1997 for the ROF Moïse et Pharaon – the most famous Paris version – where it can be said that the entire design was intended as a tribute to the Jewish people and his immense suffering during the Holocaust . "But this – reaffirms the director – took place in the last century. Dealing again with this title of Biblical content, I felt the need to look at what has happened in the last ten years in the Middle East and what is still happening [...] anger, destruction, revenge. All in the name of god ".

Donato DI PASQUALE © 2011

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