I saw Rossini’s Maometto II at the Canadian Opera Company in Toronto on May 5, 2016. It was sung in Italian with English translations projected above the stage. Although this opera is entitled Maometto II, the main character is really young Anna, the daughter of Paolo Erisso, the Venetian leader. Like many opera heroines, Anna gets put in an impossible position. Two men love her: Calbo, a brave Venetian general, and Maometto II, the Moslem sultan who has invaded Italy. Anna had met and fallen in love with Maometto in Corinth, but he had told her that he was Uberto, a Corinthian nobleman. When Paolo finds out that his daughter has fallen in love with his enemy, he is furious.
Poor Anna gets pulled in many directions. She is a patriotic Venetian who does not want her homeland conquered by the Ottomans. But Maometto has captured her heart, despite Paolo’s insistence that Anna marry Calbo. She loves both her father and Maometto. She feels a strong bond with her father and desperately wants to please him. Director David Alden has soprano Leah Crocetto as Anna express her inner torment by often extending her hands as if she were being crucified.
Luca Pisaroni eloquently portrays Maometto’s tender love for Anna and his frustration when he realizes that her conflicting emotions are tearing her apart and alienating her from him. Pisaroni and Crocetto debuted in these roles at the Santa Fe Opera in 2012.
Rossini’s Maometto II speaks to a twenty-first-century audience grappling with conflict between Western and Middle-Eastern cultures. The chorus of Moslem women in this Toronto production wear hijabs, while the Venetian women wear European garb. This highlights the cultural clash in the opera.
Petite mezzo-soprano Elizabeth DeShong as Calbo does a brilliant job in this trouser role. She has a wide vocal range and an expressive style of singing. All of the lead singers’ voices blend perfectly in their duets and trios in Maometto II. They richly deserved their standing ovation at the end of the performance.
This tragic opera is rarely performed. The action moves at a glacial pace, and Rossini’s scenes are too long for a twenty-first-century audience. The Canadian Opera Company production took three hours and twenty minutes with one intermission.
The costumes for Maometto are spectacular: golden battle armor, kingly robes, etc. However, both the Venetian and the Ottoman armed forces dress in black, which confuses the audience at times.
The themes of this opera are 1) Italian patriotism and nationalism and 2) conflicts between love for a parent and love for one’s boyfriend. I highly recommend Maometto II to opera lovers who want to see Rossini’s serious side.