We promise this: Moses in Egypt is spectacular. Rossini’s bel canto interpretation of the Exodus story harnesses music of huge scale and awesome beauty. Powerful and intense, it convincingly frames the miracles that the opera pivots around. It also lets us experience the unbelievably zealous relationship Moses has with both his maker and his people. We get to walk the journey and share the immensity of their desperate, daunting task.
But it is never bleak. The Chagall-inspired production is both vibrant and colourful. As foreboding as the chasing, enclosing shadows seem, we know that freedom could be just one moment away.
Supported by the WNO Bel Canto Syndicate.
Production note: This production places the opera in a timeless setting.
Mosè Miklós Sebestyén
Osiride David Alegret
Amaltea Christine Rice (ex. 28 November) Linda Richardson (28 November)
Aronne Barry Banks
Faraone Andrew Foster-Williams
Amenofi Leah-Marian Jones
Elcia Claire Booth
Mambre Nicky Spence
All performances start at 7.15pm
Running time three hours approximately including one interval
Sung in Italian with surtitles in English (and Welsh in Cardiff and Llandudno)
As divine punishment for Pharaoh’s refusal to free the Israelites from slavery, the Egyptian people have been plunged into darkness by Moses, the Jewish leader. In the shadows of the Egyptian palace, the people lament their fate, while Pharaoh’s son, Osiris, is consumed with anguish over his forbidden love for the Hebrew woman, Elcia. Pharaoh realises the error of his ways, and summons to the court Moses and his brother, Aaron. Pharaoh tells Moses that he will set the Israelites free as soon as light is restored to the Egyptian lands. Despite Aaron’s reservations, Moses asks God to undo the curse, and as the darkness lifts, the people rejoice. Osiris, fearing the departure of his beloved Elcia, tries unsuccessfully to persuade Pharaoh to delay the departure of the Jews. Left alone, Osiris rages at the fates, and he is joined by Mambre, the Egyptian High Priest, who is outraged that Pharaoh has abandoned his counsel. In their anger, they resolve to plant the seed of rebellion among the people. Shortly afterwards, Elcia comes to bid a sorrowful farewell to her heartbroken Osiris: she must obey her duty and leave the country with her people.
Meanwhile, Mambre and Osiris’ plan has already had considerable effect: the palace grounds are swarming with Egyptians demanding the recapture of the Jews. The two men convince Pharaoh that Moses has bewitched him into being merciful towards the Israelites. Egyptian Queen Amaltea protests, having secretly converted to Judaism. Despite his wife’s pleas, Pharaoh revokes the decree for Jewish freedom, proclaiming that if they try to leave, they will be executed. Unaware of Pharaoh’s command, the Jewish people praise God as they prepare to leave the country, while Moses’ sister, Amenophis, comforts Elcia in her sorrow. Their rejoicing is cut short as they are surrounded by Pharaoh’s soldiers, who have come to imprison them again. Moses warns the Egyptian ruler that hailstones and a rain of fire that will destroy Egypt if he does not relent. Pharaoh is defiant, and the heavens open, raining down their punishment over the Egyptian people.
Pharaoh has relented for a second time, allowing the Jewish people to depart, and saving Egypt from greater divine retribution. However, Osiris is still suffering: he is horrified to learn that his father has betrothed him to a foreign princess. Moses confides in the Egyptian Queen, Amaltea, in his fear that Pharaoh will again prove fickle. Alone with her lover, Elcia is horrified to learn of Osiris’ forced betrothal. Just as they are planning to run away together, they are caught by Queen Amaltea, who orders the soldiers to separate them with force. In his heartbreak, Osiris renounces his claim to the Egyptian throne.
Pharaoh receives a letter declaring that neighbouring states will attack if he frees the Jewish people, and so for a third time, he forbids their departure. Moses warns him that every first-born son, including his own son, Prince Osiris, will be struck down by the wrath of heaven. Pharaoh defies Moses’ threat by putting his son on the throne alongside him. Osiris realises that as co-ruler of Egypt, he could have the power to save his beloved Elcia from imprisonment. She begs him to relent and free the Jewish people, but Osiris accuses Moses of bewitching her. In his fury, he attempts to kill the Hebrew leader, but he is struck down by a bolt of lightning, leaving Elcia to mourn his loss.
With the Egyptian army hot on their heels, the Israelites have fled into the desert. They find their path barred by the Red Sea, and Moses leads them in an ardent prayer for divine mercy. Moses touches the sea with his staff, and the waters miraculously part before them, allowing the Israelites to cross to the opposite shore in safety. Pharaoh and his forces follow in pursuit, but they are all drowned, as the waters come crashing down upon them.