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

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

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.

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.

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.

Copyright 2011 WDAV

Bruce Scott
Bruce Scott is supervising producer of World of Opera. He also produces NPR's long-running, annual special Chanukah Lights, with Susan Stamberg and Murray Horwitz.