Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Collision: Spectra Ensemble at the Arcola Theatre

‘Asteroid flyby in October: A drill for the end of the world?’ So shouted a headline in USA Today earlier this month, as journalist Doyle Rice asked, ‘Are we ready for an asteroid impact?’ in his report that in October NASA will conduct a drill to see how well its planetary defence system would work if an actual asteroid were heading straight for Earth.

Joshua Bell offers Hispanic headiness at the Proms

At the start of the 20th century, French composers seemed to be conducting a cultural love affair with Spain, an affair initiated by the Universal Exposition of 1889 where the twenty-five-year old Debussy and the fourteen-year-old Ravel had the opportunity to hear new sounds from East Asia, such as the Javanese gamelan, alongside gypsy flamenco from Granada.

Hibiki: a European premiere by Mark-Anthony Turnage at the Proms

Hibiki: sound, noise, echo, reverberation, harmony. Commissioned by the Suntory Hall in Tokyo to celebrate the Hall’s 30th anniversary in 2016, Mark-Anthony Turnage’s 50-minute Hibiki, for two female soloists, children’s chorus and large orchestra, purports to reflect on the ‘human reverberations’ of the Tohoku earthquake in 2011 and the devastation caused by the subsequent tsunami and radioactive disaster.

Janáček: The Diary of One Who Disappeared, Grimeborn

A great performance of Janáček’s song cycle The Diary of One Who Disappeared can be, allowing for the casting of a superb tenor, an experience on a par with Schoenberg’s Erwartung. That Shadwell Opera’s minimalist, but powerful, staging in the intimate setting of Studio 2 of the Arcola Theatre was a triumph was in no small measure to the magnificent singing of the tenor, Sam Furness.

Khovanshchina: Mussorgsky at the Proms

Remembering the centenary of the Russian Revolution, this Proms performance of Mussorgsky’s mighty Khovanshchina (all four and a quarter hours of it) exceeded all expectations on a musical level. And, while the trademark doorstop Proms opera programme duly arrived containing full text and translation, one should celebrate the fact that - finally - we had surtitles on several screens.

Santa Fe: Entertaining If Not Exactly (R)evolutionary

You know what I loved best about Santa Fe Opera’s world premiere The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs?

Longborough Young Artists in London: Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice

For the last three years, Longborough Festival Opera’s repertoire of choice for their Young Artist Programme productions has been Baroque opera seria, more specifically Handel, with last year’s Alcina succeeding Rinaldo in 2014 and Xerxes in 2015.

Full-throated Cockerel at Santa Fe

A tale of a lazy, befuddled world leader that ‘has no clothes on’ and his two dimwit sons, hmmmm, what does that remind me of. . .?

Santa Fe’s Trippy Handel

If you don’t like a given moment in Santa Fe Opera’s staging of Alcina, well, just like the volatile mountain weather, wait two minutes and it will surely change.

Santa Fe’s Crowd-Pleasing Strauss

With Die Fledermaus’ thrice familiar overture still lingering in our ears, it didn’t take long for the assault of hijinks to reduce the audience into guffaws of delight.

Santa Fe: Mad for Lucia

If there is any practitioner currently singing the punishing title role of Lucia di Lammermoor better than Brenda Rae, I am hard-pressed to name her.

Janáček's The Cunning Little Vixen at Grimeborn

Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen can be a difficult opera to stage, despite its charm and simplicity. In part it is a good, old-fashioned morality tale about the relationships between humans and animals, and between themselves, but Janáček doesn’t use a sledgehammer to make this point. It is easy for many productions to fall into parody, and many have done, and it is a tribute to The Opera Company’s staging of this work at the Arcola Theatre that they narrowly avoided this pitfall.

Handel's Israel in Egypt at the Proms: William Christie and the OAE

For all its extreme popularity with choirs, Handel’s oratorio Israel in Egypt is a somewhat problematic work; the scarcity of solos makes hiring professional soloists an extravagant expense, and the standard version of the work starts oddly with a tenor recitative. If we return to the work's history then these issues are put into context, and this is what William Christie did for the performance of Handel’s Israel in Egypt at the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on Tuesday 1 August 2017.

Sirens and Scheherazade: Prom 18

From Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria, to Bruch’s choral-orchestral Odysseus, to Fauré’s Penelope, countless compositions have taken their inspiration from Homer’s Odyssey, perhaps not surprisingly given Homer’s emphasis on the power of music in the Greek world.

A new La clemenza di Tito at Glyndebourne

Big birds are looming large at Glyndebourne this year. After Juno’s Peacock, which scooped up the suicidal Hipermestra, Chris Guth’s La clemenza di Tito offers us a huge soaring magpie, symbolic of Tito’s release from the chains of responsibility in Imperial Rome.

Prom 9: Fidelio lives by its Florestan

The last time Beethoven’s sole opera, Fidelio, was performed at the Proms, in 2009, Daniel Barenboim was making a somewhat belated London opera debut with his West-Eastern Divan Orchestra.

The Merchant of Venice: WNO at Covent Garden

In Out of Africa, her account of her Kenyan life, Karen Blixen relates an anecdote, ‘Farah and The Merchant of Venice’. When Blixen told Farah Aden, her Somali butler, the story of Shakespeare’s play, he was disappointed and surprised by the denouement: surely, he argued, the Jew Shylock could have succeeded in his bond if he had used a red-hot knife? As an African, Farah expected a different narrative, demonstrating that our reception of art depends so much on our assumptions and preconceptions.

Leoncavallo's Zazà at Investec Opera Holland Park

The make-up is slapped on thickly in this new production of Leoncavallo’s Zazà by director Marie Lambert and designer Alyson Cummings at Investec Opera Holland Park.

McVicar’s Enchanting but Caliginous Rigoletto in Castle Olavinlinna at Savonlinna Opera Festival

David McVicar’s thrilling take on Verdi’s Rigoletto premiered as the first international production of this Summer’s Savonlinna Opera Festival. The scouts for the festival made the smart decision to let McVicar adapt his 2001 Covent Garden staging to the unique locale of Castle Olavinlinna.

Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance at Covent Garden

The end of the ROH’s summer season was marked as usual by the Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance but this year’s showcase was a little lacklustre at times.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Bruce Ford as Otello
23 Jan 2007

OONY Gives Rare Performance of Rossini's Otello

There are three reasons often cited for the paucity of performances of Rossini’s Otello: the horrible hack job of the Shakespearean drama by librettist Francesco Maria Berio, the difficulties in casting an opera requiring at least three top-rate tenor voices, and comparisons with Verdi’s popular opera of the same title.

Though these arguments hold much weight, they also have little to do with Rossini’s expressive and thoroughly enjoyable score, as was evident in the Opera Orchestra of New York’s concert performance of the work on Wednesday night at Carnegie Hall.

Shakespeare’s work was not as well-known in northern Italy at the time of the opera’s composition, perhaps accounting for the free treatment that the story received. Berio’s retelling of the classic tale makes such a mess of things that there is little left of the original drama but the names of the characters. Lord Byron wrote of the opera in 1818: “They have been crucifying Othello into an opera,” and in my mind he spoke the truth. Indeed, the story never leaves the shores of Venice, the signal handkerchief becomes a furtive love letter, Desdemona is stabbed rather than strangled, and Jago’s role in the drama is lessened while the peripheral Rodrigo becomes integral.

Regardless, the work was hugely successful in the nineteenth century, its popularity lasting until Verdi’s Otello overtook it in the operatic canon. I would posit that the inevitable association of the two works is the principal reason that Rossini’s now lesser-known interpretation has fallen into obscurity as much as it has. Comparisons inevitably paint the earlier in a bad light by virtue of its much-maligned libretto.

Seen as the product of Rossini, the work is well worth its weight in gold. There are some truly beautiful moments, though it admittedly lags a bit in the middle. The opening, for instance, features not one, not two, not even three. . . but FOUR solo tenors singing their hearts out in one of the most exciting moments of tenor multiplicity in the repertoire. The Act Two confrontation between Otello and Rodrigo is also a moment of high drama, and Desdemona’s Willow Song is as hauntingly beautiful as is the more widely-known Verdi version.

The night also belonged to the performers that realized the impossible and sublimely beautiful bel canto score, for the work cannot stand on its own without talented virtuosos. In fact, this opera has always been at the mercy of willing and able singers; an abundance of virtuosic tenors in Naples precipitated the composition of myriad vocal fireworks for the tenor voice. The cast was led by veteran Rossini interpreter Bruce Ford, a last-minute stand-in for Ramon Vargas. Ford sang a lot of notes on Wednesday night, all with confidence and ease. Equally impressive was Kenneth Tarver as Roderigo, whose lyricism and light touch complemented the role. His high-lying aria, Ah, come mai non senti, was one of the best moments of the night. Solid too was Robert McPherson as the villainous Jago. His voice was that much louder, harsher than his colleagues’— well-suited for the antagonist. In the men’s camp it would be remiss not also to mention Gaston Rivero as the Doge (and later as the Gondolier), the fourth component in the opening.

The preponderance of tenors on the stage precludes any solo female voices for the first half hour of the work. Furthermore, in a seemingly concerted effort to keep the tessitura of the ensemble in the human voice’s middle range, the role of Desdemona is written for a mezzo. When we finally meet Desdemona, she remains a peripheral character — there is no entrance aria for her, nor is there ever a love duet. Ruxandra Donose nevertheless sang the role beautifully, and the impassioned Willow Song was the crown jewel of the concert.

If there was a drawback to the performance, it would be that the orchestra was not prepared, and perhaps more to the point, unenthused about the performance. It is eternally difficult to create cohesiveness in an opera orchestra, especially one that performs together only a few times per year. Still, the group was sloppier than most: brass instruments fracked, there was at least one blatant wrong note, and entrances were not together. On the other hand, the members of the orchestra performed solos beautifully. The virtuosic instrumental passages typical of Rossini were right on, and harpist Grance Paradise, Desdemona’s partner in the Willow Song, was as stunning in the aria as the mezzo.

So hats off to Eve Queler and the Opera Orchestra of New York, for performing such an undervalued work. Queler has long been a champion of lesser-known opera, and her choice of programming here was excellent. Carry on Ms. Queler!

Sarah Gerk

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):