dpm is a Birmingham-based freelancer with experience of arts and lifestyle features.
Rossini's not so comic opera
While Rossini might be best known for his comic operas such as The Barber of Seville he also created works of epic proportion such as Moses in Egypt and William Tell – both currently being toured by Welsh National Opera.
Moses in Egypt tells the story of the Hebrew slaves and their attempts to leave Egypt and reach their Promised Land.
It is a story well-known to many a Sunday school goer. Told in the Biblical book of Exodus, Moses calls down the plagues on Egypt which culminate in the deaths of all the first born sons of Egypt, an event still marked by Jews today as Passover.
Broken by this massacre, the Pharaoh finally agrees to 'let my people go' but in a last minute change of heart charges after the Hebrews. The slaves escape thanks to the parting of the Red Sea but when the Egyptians attempt to follow them, the waters return and they are swallowed up.
Hebrews versus Egyptians
Directed by WNO chief executive and artistic director David Pountney and designed by Raimund Bauer, this production doesn't attempt to wow the audience with special effects. But with its clever use of colour it creates a different kind of drama.
The set is two huge walls of block colour – blue on the left, the side of the Hebrews, and red on the right, the side of the Egyptians. Marie-Jeanne Lecca's costumes mirror this, with almost football team precision – blue and green on one side and red and orange on the other. And to ensure the look is complete, the characters also have colour on their faces and in their hair.
This makes for a visually striking production – there is a clear division between the two groups, a division which is accentuated throughout by physical separation.
Miklos Sebestyen makes a mighty Moses. Clad in a yellow kaftan and with wild hair which sticks up on either side of his head in what I presume is a representation of the artistic tradition of depicting Moses with horns, he struts around the stage promising doom and destruction. This is not a man to be messed with. And yet he is also humble, reminding the Pharaoh that the power is divine not human.
Miklos Sebestyen leads the Hebrews
Andrew Foster-Williams gives as good as he gets as Pharaoh while Barry Banks is a very strong Aaron.
Being an opera, Rossini added a 'love interest' to the Biblical story – a forbidden passion between the Pharaoh's son Osiride (David Alegret) and the Hebrew girl Elcia (sung by Joanne Boag). The scenes when these two come together and declare their love are really beautiful which is particularly impressive as Boag was performing in place of Claire Booth at this performance at Birmingham Hippodrome.
A special mention also goes to Amaltea, the Pharaoh's wife, sung by Christine Rice, who is torn between her loyalty to her country and her new found belief in the Hebrew faith.
This is an interesting and thought-provoking production – not least because so much division still exists in the Middle East and North Africa today.