Lorenzo Moog | Seattle, WA USA | 12/05/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Rossini's "Otello" (prima 1816, Teatro del Fondo; Naples) has had an interesting time of it through the centuries.
There is some controversy about the source material for the libretto whether it was taken directly from Shakespeare or from a play "Otello" by Baron G.C. Cosenza that was playing in Naples in recent previous years. Whatever the truth of the source this "Otello" has taken a beating from scholars and musicologists for years. This 2CD studio set with extensive Philip Gossett notes and libretto in It & Eng is well worth a listen. It is set in Venice to a libretto by Francesco Beria which seems to me has a charming simplicity and is eminently singable. And sing they do, to the accompaniment of the Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Jesus Lopez Cabos. In Rossini's day, in Naples, there was an abundance of capable tenors so he cast five of them, three for the principal roles. In this performance Jose Carreras sings the title role, Salvatore Fisichella as Rodrigo and Gianfranco Pastine as Iago. Sorting out the three tenor voices takes a bit of attention at first but as the opera progresses there is enough distinction in their range and tone to figure them out. Carreras is agressive and velvety turning in a fine performance but it is Fisichella as Rodrigo who holds my attention because of the vocal fireworks Rossini created for that character. Samuel Ramey sings Elmiro, Desdemona's father, exquistely.
Frederica von Stade siezes Desdemona and sings her for all she's worth, moody, tragic and filled with desire. For all of the energy generated by the tenors it is Desdemona and Emilia ( Nucci Condo) who get Rossini's best writing. The five pieces that are performed by the two women from "Ah! Dagli affani opressa" through to 'Deh calma o Ciel nel sonno" are stunning, Von Stade and Condo perfectly paired. The Ambrosian Opera Chorus is excellent! Cobos gives a beautiful reading of Rossini's dynamic score.
Act 1 is dramatically disorderly but has some delightful singing. Act 2 assembles itself, motives and intentions are sorted out and it ends in a spectacular Finale (Mr. Gossett finds it excessive & it may well be). Act 3 is superb. It is said that the first two acts are in the tradition of 18th century opera and that the third act breaks through into the 19th with several innovations including deaths (two of them) on stage. The musical ending is very unusual, it just sort of abruptly ends. Otello stabs himself and the other male principals and chorus cry out "Ah" and that's it. It is a wonderful opera that deserves staging! In the meanwhile this set at least allows hearing a terrific and compelling performance. If you love Rossini..........Highly Recommended.