Rossi: Cleopatra/Crescenzi

Review by: Robert Levine

Artistic Quality: 8

Sound Quality: 8

Prior to this release most lovers of operatic esoterica only knew the name Lauro Rossi (1812-1885) because he composed the Agnus Dei of the Mass for Rossini at the behest of Giuseppe Verdi in 1869. That is a lovely piece, and this, his opera Cleopatra, premiered in Turin in 1876, proves itself worthy as well, if not quite a masterpiece. If Verdi hadn’t been around, Rossi’s name might be better known today. The music sounds as if composed 25 years earlier; it owes more to bel canto than it does to late Verdi or any Wagnerian (or otherwise German) influence.

The plot is brief: Cleopatra’s counselor, Diomede, loves her and fears for Egypt now that Cleopatra has taken up with Antonio. While he’s away, she is told of Antonio’s upcoming wedding to Ottavia (whose brother Cesare is very pleased with their union) and flees to Rome in a rage, with Diomede in tow. She confronts Antonio after the ceremony and when she is rebuffed, she attempts to stab Ottavia, but Antonio stops her, though it is clear that he’s still enamored of her.

In the last act, Antonio, having lost the Battle of Actium, blames Cleopatra and commits suicide. Cleopatra and Cesare are about to join together both politically and romantically when news of Antonio’s suicide arrives; Cesare denounces Cleopatra, blaming her for Antonio’s suicide and for ruining his marriage to Ottavia. Cleopatra calls for an asp and, as Antonio’s body is brought in, she upstages it and dies.

Pretty hot stuff, and the music keeps things going in a timely (under two hours) and exciting fashion. Rossi may not have written the most memorable melodies, but Cleopatra has some fine ensembles (the big one that closes the third act is splendid and richly wrought) and good arias. Dimitra Theodossiou has just the right voice and temperament for the obsessed Cleopatra and she hurls herself into the part and is in fine vocal fettle throughout.

Alessandro Liberatore’s lightish tenor lacks both bel canto smoothness and heroic utterance for Antonio, but he’s a good singer and cares about what he’s doing. The Diomede of Sebastian Catana is powerful and wily and the rest of the cast is quite good. David Crescenzi conducts as if the score were even better than it is, and FORM plays very well. This is a rarity and an oddity, and well worth hearing.



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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: none

LAURO ROSSI - Cleopatra


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