A Lenten Indulgence: Rossini's 'Moses in Egypt'
As ACT ONE begins, Egypt is suffering a plague of darkness, brought on by Moses and the Hebrew god. Pharaoh has had enough of this and sends for Moses, hoping to negotiate the freedom of the Israelites. Moses's brother Aaron warns that this negotiation may be a trick. But Moses decides that Pharaoh can be trusted. He calls on God to lift the darkness, and restore light to Egypt.
With this done, word gets to Osiride, the son of Pharaoh, that the Israelites will soon be leaving. For him, this is unhappy news. It means he'll be separated from his lover Elcia, a young Hebrew woman. The two sing a sad duet, but still hope they'll find a way to stay together.
To accomplish that, Osiride teams up with the priest Mambre. They start a campaign to convince the Egyptians that the Israelites should be kept in captivity. It works, and Pharaoh goes back on this word. This infuriates Moses. He again appeals to God, and as the act ends Egypt is afflicted by burning hail and a rain of fire.
So in ACT TWO, Pharaoh wavers again, and decides to give the Hebrews their freedom. He also arranges a marriage for Osiride, to a princess from Armenia. Hearing this, Osiride and Elcia decide to leave the whole conflict behind, and escape together. But as the two are leaving, they're discovered by Aaron and Amaltea, Pharaoh's wife, who has protected the Israelites.
When Pharaoh hears of this, he decides to prevent the Israelites from leaving. He summons Elcia and Moses, and orders Osiride to condemn Moses to death. Elcia defiantly reveals her relationship with Osiride, and offers her own life in exchange for Moses, and the release of the Israelites. This enrages Osiride. But when he draws a sword to kill Moses, he's promptly struck dead by a bolt of lightning. As the act ends, Pharaoh mourns for his son, and Elcia begins to go mad.
ACT THREE serves as a brief coda to the drama. The Israelites have left Egypt, but they've arrived at the banks of the Red Sea, and Pharaoh's army is behind them, in close pursuit.
Hoping to save his people, Moses leads them in a fervent prayer, "Dal tuo stellato soglio," that has become one of the opera’s most famous numbers. He then touches the water with his staff, and the sea parts. The Israelites are able flee to the other side but when the Egyptians try to follow, the sea collapses, and Pharaoh's army is destroyed as the opera ends.