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Dull staging of an interesting but uninspired opera novelty,
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This review is from: Rossi: Cleopatra [DVD]  [NTSC] (DVD)
It is good to have the opportunity to see this opera by Lauro Rossi, who was a contemporary of Verdi. However, there are serious flaws with this 2008 production from the Sferisterio Festival in Macerata, Italy. The most important is that it is a cut version. The overture and some of the opera itself are not performed. This is a real shame because the whole point of having this opera on DVD is to provide the opportunity to see it and to make a present-day assessment of its merits. This is far harder to do with an incomplete performance. Secondly the staging is incredibly dull. The costumes are good apart from the fact that Cleopatra herself is very badly costumed, in black throughout, in complete contrast to what one would expect and in view of the relatively good costumes for all the other characters. It is a mystery why this was done. Worst of all is the fact that for what should be a spectacular multi-scene opera the set itself is dreadfully boring. It is just a single stage-wide set of dark steps with a few plinths here and there. Nothing changes apart from the movement of the plinth positions and the presence of a couple of wall drapes to denote the Rome scene. This is really the major problem in terms of immediate impact. For an opera about Cleopatra set in Egypt and Rome one would expect spectacular action and sets as generally found in Aida, an opera which this work by Rossi followed five years later. I presume it was given more spectacular treatment at the time but here it is hugely let down by this aspect of the production.
Lack of atmosphere is also the major drawback of the music itself. There is no real hint in the music of the relatively exotic setting and nothing remotely suggesting Egypt. As far as the music portrays the action, it could be a tragic drama set anywhere in Europe. Just by listening to this opera one would never guess it was set largely in Egypt. Whatever the merits and authenticity of Verdi's 'Egyptian' music for Aida there is certainly no doubt in the listeners' mind that it is set in an exotic location and it is entirely belivable to European listeners that it is Egypt. This then gets to the core of the merit of Rossi's opera. It is a perfectly workmanlike piece of music theatre written by someone who understood the art form and was a decent orchestrator with some gift for melody, but the inspiration never rises above a level of pleasant competency and never gets anywhere near the quality of most works by Verdi.
The reason that I have given three stars to this DVD is because the performers are generally excellent. Dimitra Theodossiou in the title role is outstandingly good. Given good costumes and a far better production she would make a very good case for this opera. Within the confines of the present production she does her very best and brings out the melodic and dramatic elements that are present in the music. She is supported by a very good cast. There are no weak links and all the five main principals are excellent. Alessandro Liberatore is a rather light--voiced tenor as Marc Anthony and is easily outsung by the full bass-baritone voice of a very impressive Octavian played by Paolo Pecchioli. However, both men are very good as is Sebastian Catana as Cleopatra's aide Diomede. The main five are completed by the excellent mezzo-soprano Tiziana Carraro as Octavia, but unfortunately she only appears in the single act in Rome.
The orchestra and chorus conducted by David Crescenzi do a very good job and the sound quality here is excellent. Overall this is a very good recording. The sound is available in three optional soundtracks, Dolby digital 2.0, 5.1 or DTS 5.1. The picture is in 16 : 9 aspect ratio and the disc is in NTSC format.
Naxos is to be congratulated for once again providing us with the opportunity to see a rarely staged opera that is otherwise unavailable on DVD and unlikely to be produced in a local opera house. It is good to see that they are continuing with music on DVD the adventurous approach which they have amply demostrated on CD.