Second Time Around: Rossini's 'Siege of Corinth'

fromWDAV

Mahomet II, Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, is a key figure in two of Rossini's operas.

hide captionMahomet II, Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, is a key figure in two of Rossini's operas.

Wikimedia Commons

In Hollywood, it's common for studios to exploit old hits by remaking them with new directors and new stars. Something similar has gone on in the world's opera houses for centuries, with composers remaking established operas by setting old stories to new music. What's less common is for directors, or composers, to remake their own previous works—but it does happen.

In 1956, Alfred Hitchcock came up with a winning combination when Jimmy Stewart and Doris Day starred in The Man Who Knew Too Much. What's often forgotten is that the movie was actually a remake: Hitchcock had directed another film, with the same name and story, back in 1934.

It's hard to say exactly why Hitchcock remade his own movie. One reason could have been that during the decades between the two films he had reached a far different stage in his career. In the 1930s, he was a relatively obscure director working in England. By 1956, he was a big name in Hollywood, with films such as Rebecca, Spellbound and Rear Window under his belt.

The Hit Single

Among the most striking additions Rossini made when adapting the opera for Paris was the spectacular final scene. It begins with Pamyra (soprano Majella Cullagh) praying quietly for heavenly justice--"Juste ciel"--and continues with Mahomet's return, Pamyra's suicide and the fiery destruction of Corinth.

So, with his new version of The Man Who Knew Too Much, Hitchcock was simply remaking an obscure, old film for an eager new audience. It's an idea that makes good sense—especially business sense. And Gioachino Rossini had the same sharp instincts more than a century earlier.

The B Side


Pamyra's inner conflict begins near the midpoint of Act 1. When she declares her love for another man and refuses to marry Néoclès, her father Cléomène is outraged, Néoclès is mystified and Pamyra begins their trio with the words "horrible disgrace."

In 1820, Rossini's opera Maometto II premiered in Naples, telling a violent story of conflicting passions and divided loyalties. But while the composer was one of Italian opera's biggest names, the drama was only a modest success.

By 1826, Rossini had moved from Italy to France, and needed to get a new chapter in his career off to a quick start. So he took Maometto II, an opera few in Paris knew, tweaked it a little and rewrote it in French as The Siege of Corinth. He also gave it a spectacular new ending to satisfy the Parisian taste for high-tech special effects. That is, he revived an old Italian opera for his new French audiences—and it worked. Before long, Rossini was a star in both countries.

On World of Opera, host Lisa Simeone presents The Siege of Corinth in a production from the Rossini in Wildbad Festival in Germany. The international cast features Italian bass Lorenzo Ragazzo as the Turkish general Mahomet, American tenor Michael Spyres as the Greek warrior Néoclès and Irish soprano Majella Cullagh as Pamyra, the woman forced to choose between them.

See the previous edition of World of Opera or the full archive.

The Story Of 'The Siege Of Corinth'

Jean-Luc Tingaud leads the Camerata Bach Chorus and the Virtuosi Brunensis Orchestra in a concert performance of Rossini's The Siege of Corinth.

hide captionJean-Luc Tingaud leads the Camerata Bach Chorus and the Virtuosi Brunensis Orchestra in a concert performance of Rossini's The Siege of Corinth.

Udo Talmon/Wildbad Festival

Who's Who

Pamyra .............. Majella Cullagh

Mahomet ..........Lorenzo Ragazzo

Cléomène ................. Marc Sala

Néoclès ............. Michael Spyres

Hiéros ............. Matthieu Lécroart

Camerata Bach Chorus

Virtuosi Brunensis Orchestra

Jean-Luc Tingaud, conductor

Rossini's opera has three acts, all set in the Greek city of Corinth. In ACT ONE, the city's governor, Cléomène, tells the people that the enemy leader Mahomet has refused to lift the Turkish siege, and the situation is now hopeless. Still, Cléomène needs to maintain the loyalty of his men, and he reminds his daughter, Pamyra, that she has been promised to the young officer Néoclès.

But Pamyra has other ideas. She tells her father that she's in love with someone else — a man she met in Athens. They begin to argue, but news soon comes that the Turks are launching another attack. Cléomène goes off to fight, and the Turks soon overrun the city.

As Mahomet and his troops are celebrating in the city square, Cléomène is led before the Turkish leader. A band of Greek soldiers is still resisting, holed up in a fortress, and Cléomène has refused to order their surrender. Pamyra then enters the square and immediately recognizes Mahomet. He's the man she fell for in Athens, who was then calling himself Almanzor.

When Mahomet realizes who Pamyra is, his resolve softens. He's still in love with her. Mahomet says that if Pamyra marries him, he'll agree to negotiate peace with the Greeks. Cléomène responds angrily, and reminds Pamyra about her arranged marriage to Néoclès. But she defies him, and Cléomène curses her as the act ends.

In ACT TWO, Pamyra is uncertain what to do next. She's still in love with Mahomet but also feels a deep loyalty to her father, and to her country. Mahomet tells her that once they're married, she'll find peace. But as the wedding procession begins, it's interrupted by Néoclès. He appeals to Pamyra, saying the other women of Corinth are defying the Turks, while she's preparing to marry their conqueror.

Mahomet has never met this newcomer, and demands to know who he is. To protect Néoclès, Pamyra claims that he's her brother. Mahomet orders the wedding ceremony to proceed, but things are interrupted again when fighting is heard outside. Cléomène has re-gathered the Corinthian army, and has attacked Mahomet's forces. When Pamyra hears her father calling to her, she breaks down, and then renounces Mahomet, saying she no longer loves him. Mahomet is furious, but he allows Pamyra and Néoclès to leave, saying he'll take his revenge by destroying Corinth and killing all its citizens.

As ACT THREE begins, in the catacombs of Corinth, Cléomène and Néoclès prepare to fight the Turks, in what will likely be their last battle. Pamyra and the other women are heard praying.

Mahomet then appears, with his armed escort. He again demands to marry Pamyra, offering a peaceful settlement in return. Cléomène says he would rather see his daughter dead. Mahomet storms out, vowing to continue the siege until the city has been leveled.

Pamyra, Cléomène, and Néoclès pray together. Hiéros, the guardian of the graves, reminds everyone of Greek history, and its many glorious victories. Inspired, the men leave to join the battle.

The women continue to pray, but before long the Turks are heard celebrating their victory. Mahomet rushes in triumphantly, thinking that Pamyra will now be his. But when she sees him, she stabs herself. The building then crumbles around them, revealing the entire city in flames.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.