Gioachino Rossini: Maometto II

Maometto Secondo Rossini

Edited by Ilaria Narici (2023)

Critical Edition | GR

As part of the project dedicated to revising Gioachino Rossini’s complete works, the foundation that bears the composer’s name has decided to publish an all-new critical edition of Maometto II. In 1985 the Rossini Foundation sponsored a revised edition of Maometto II by Italian conductor Claudio Scimone. That edition was based on a single original manuscript and regarded only the first performance of the opera (Naples, 1820). No analysis of any other manuscripts was undertaken, nor did it include any critical commentary – thus Scimone’s effort could not be considered a critical edition in the truest sense of the term.

The lone manuscript that Scimone had to work with was in extremely poor condition and, indeed, most of it proved to be nearly illegible. After the publication of Scimone’s revision, several other Maometto II manuscripts and related details surfaced. In light of those discoveries, the Rossini Foundation considered the time had come for a proper critical edition that would reconstruct both the original version of the opera (Naples, 1820) and the revised version (Venice, 1822), and contain a study of the French version of Maometto II, which would come to be known as Le siège de Corinthe.

The original manuscript for Maometto II is composed of two volumes. The first volume contains 174 sheets, while the second contains 86. They are bound in ivory-colored cardboard. The paper used is of different sizes and provenance. The binding of the sheets was sloppily done; only a handful of sections present the juxtaposition of sheets and bifolia that refer to the same piece. Thus, the first phase of work involved identifying the music, after which the various pieces and/or sections of the opera were placed in the proper order. The manuscript contains music (incomplete) of what may be considered three different operas:

  • Maometto II – Premiere: Naples, Teatro San Carlo, December 3, 1820. Due to the revisions that followed, the pieces of the Naples 1820 version were contained in different bundles, sloppily arranged, not in the proper order. Some pieces and sections also contained large gaps;
  • Maometto II – Revised version: Venice, Teatro La Fenice, December 26, 1822. New sections, readaptations;
  • Le siège de Corinthe – Premiere: Théâtre de l’Académie Royale de Musique, October 9, 1826. Readapted sections.

Studying the opera’s main musical reference led to the identification of a great deal of heterogeneous material, which revealed the various stages of composition and revision for the versions staged in Venice (1822) and later in Paris (1826).

With regard to the original version of Maometto II (Naples, 1820), the manuscript presents ample gaps, which in the critical edition were filled thanks to copies of the manuscript made in the 1820s. Indeed, in the wake of Scimone’s 1985 revision, musicological research on the works of Rossini made much progress, leading to the discovery of pieces and fragments of Maometto II in public and private libraries and archives. This is why the Rossini Foundation felt it necessary to return to work on this opera, which is considered among the most important of Rossini’s career. Thus, a thorough revision was undertaken in light of the new acquisitions, which included Maometto’s Cavatina [No. 4] from Act I, whose manuscript was purchased at an auction by Rossini expert Bruno Cagli and donated to the Rossini Foundation, and the Chorus “È follia sul fior degli anni” (It is madness in the flower of youth), which opens Act 2, and is housed in The Morgan Library and Museum in New York.

A further object of study undertaken for the preparation of this critical edition focused on handwritten notes and outlines for various sections of the opera. Such documents were helpful when it came to understanding and reconstructing the compositional methods Rossini used in the creation of his operas. In Rossini’s case, such material has proven to be an exceedingly rare commodity, for, unlike Giuseppe Verdi, who left behind scads of notes and outlines for his operas, we have seen very little in terms of rough drafts from Rossini.

The libretto for the premiere of Maometto II provided only secondary testimony for the exact determination of the opera’s lyrics, and was used mainly to define punctuation and stage directions. The critical edition includes the lyrics as set to music by Rossini, which at certain points differ from the lyrics that appear in the libretto, and at times the differences are substantial. All variations are noted in the critical commentary.

The critical edition provides readers with the basic format of the version of Maometto II that premiered in Naples in 1820. The appendix contains the version performed in Venice in 1822, as well as the transcription of all preparatory material that is known to exist, which was produced by Rossini over the course of the compositional process. The performance of the opera as recommended by the critical edition offers a complete revision of the score based on the original manuscript and on the manuscript housed in Naples, which is to be considered more reliable, inasmuch as it contains what is known to be all the idiosyncrasies of Rossini’s handwriting (as seen in crescendo and diminuendo symbols, acute accents, etc.) and corresponds to the autograph in the layout of the sections the two manuscripts share in common. The critical edition also includes music not considered in Scimone’s 1985 revision (5 final bars in No. 7 Maometto and Anna’s Duet, as well as the reopening of several repeated “Bis” sections); instructions for splitting the orchestra into two groups for an interesting “stereophonic” effect; directions for on-stage musical accompaniment for the Prayer of the Women’s Chorus in No. 11 “Nume, cui il sole è trono” (O God, whose throne is the sun), based on stylistic and comparative considerations.