Rossini : El Asedio de CorintoNew York, Met, 1975 (Audio)
Director: Thomas Schippers
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Le siège de Corinthe (The Siege of Corinth) is an opera in three acts by Gioachino Rossini set to a French libretto by Luigi Balocchi and Alexandre Soumet, which was based on the reworking of some of the music from the composer's 1820 opera for Naples, Maometto II, the libretto of which was written by Cesare della Valle. Le siège was Rossini's first French opera, known also in its Italian version as L'assedio di Corinto.
The opera commemorates the siege and ultimate destruction of the town of Missolonghi in 1826 by Turkish during the ongoing Greek War of Independence (1821–1829). The reference to Corinth is an example of allegory, although Sultan Mehmed II had indeed besieged the city in the 1450s. This same incident - condemned throughout Western Europe for its cruelty - also inspired a prominent painting by Eugène Delacroix (Greece Expiring on the Ruins of Missolonghi), and was mentioned in the writings of Victor Hugo. Lord Byron's 1816 poem The Siege of Corinth has little, if any, connection with the opera.
The French version of this late Rossini opera was a partial rewrite of the composer's 1820 Italian opera, Maometto II, but with exactly the same story and characters, in the setting of the Turks' 1470 conquest of the Venetian colony of Negroponte. That original version had premiered in Naples on 3 December 1820—six years before the Missolonghi siege and massacre. The original Maometto was not well received, neither in Naples nor in Venice where Rossini tried out a somewhat revised version in 1823, this time with a happy ending using music from his own La donna del lago at the conclusion.
But in 1826, two years after settling in Paris, Rossini tried yet again, with yet another version (which included two ballets, as called for by French operatic tradition), transplanted it to Greece with the new title Le siège de Corinthe in a topical nod to the then-raging Greek war for independence from the Ottomans, and translated it into French. This time, Rossini succeeded, and the opera was performed in various countries over the next decade or so.
The first performance, in French, was at the Salle Le Peletier of the Paris Opéra on 9 October 1826. It was given as L'assedio di Corinto in Parma on 26 January 1828 and it reached Vienna in July 1831. The opera remained popular throughout the 1830s in Europe and then disappeared entirely from the repertory for roughly the next one hundred years. However, the opera's overture remained widely popular and never left the concert orchestra repertory. More recently the overture has been performed and recorded by several contemporary classical orchestras, including the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields conducted by Neville Marriner.
In 1949 Le siège de Corinthe was finally revived again in a production starring Renata Tebaldi in Florence. That production was repeated two years later in Rome. In 1969 La Scala revived it for the Rossini centennial with the young Beverly Sills, in her La Scala debut, as Pamira, Marilyn Horne as Neocle, and Thomas Schippers conducting. The opera used a performing edition by noted musicologist and bel canto expert Randolph Mickelson that interpolated arias from the original Neapolitan and Venetian versions and even from other obscure Rossini operas (as of course Rossini himself commonly did). In 1975, the Metropolitan Opera used the La Scala version for the United States premiere of the opera. The Met production was conducted by Schippers again and starred Beverly Sills in her Met debut, now opposite Shirley Verrett, Justino Díaz and Harry Theyard.
Since 1975, the only production of the opera in the US has been the October 2006 stagings of the French version by the Baltimore Opera, in a mid-19th century re-translation back into Italian, with one aria interpolated from one of the predecessor "Maometto II" versions and one from Rossini's Ciro in Babilonia which featured Elizabeth Futral as Pamira and Viveca Geneaux as Neocle.
Outside the US, the opera has been staged several times. It was produced in Florence in 1982 in Calisto Bassi's Italian version, starring Katia Ricciarelli with contralto (Martine Dupuy) singing the role of Neocle instead of a tenor, and under the direction of Pier Luigi Pizzi. The same production was given in Genoa, where the original French version was produced in 1992 starring Luciana Serra.