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Florilegium, Wigmore Hall

During this exploration of music from the Austro-German Baroque, Florilegium were joined by the baritone Roderick Williams in a programme of music which placed the music and career of J.S. Bach in the context of three older contemporaries: Franz Tunder (1614-67), Dietrich Buxtehude (1637-1701) and Heinrich Biber (1644-1704). The work of these three composers may be less familiar to listeners, but Florilegium revealed the musical sophistication - under the increasing influence of the Italian style - and emotional range of this music which was composed during the second half of the seventeenth century.

Leoncavallo: Zazà - Opera Rara

Charismatic charm, vivacious insouciance, fervent passion, dejected self-pity, blazing anger and stoic selflessness: Zazà - a chanteuse raised from the backstreets to the bright lights - is a walking compendium of emotions. Ruggero Leoncavallo’s eponymous opera lives by its heroine. Tackling this exhausting, and perilous, role at the Barbican Hall, The soprano Ermonela Jaho gave an absolutely fabulous performance, her range, warmth and total commitment ensuring that the hooker’s heart of gold shone winningly.

L'ospedale - an anonymous opera rediscovered

‘Stay away from doctors; they are bad for your health.’ This seems to be the central message of L’Ospedale - a one-hour opera by an unknown seventeenth-century composer, with a libretto by Antonio Abati which presents a satirical critique of the medical profession of the day and those who had the misfortune to need curative treatment for their physical and mental ills.

Šimon Voseček : Beidermann and the Arsonists

‘In these times of heightened security … we are listening, watching …’

René Pape, Joseph Calleja, Kristine Opolais, Boito Mefistofele, Munich

Arrigo Boito Mefistofele was broadcast livestream from the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich last night. What a spectacle !

Calixto Bieito’s The Force of Destiny

The monochrome palette of Picasso’s Guernica and the mural’s anti-war images of suffering dominate Calixto Bieito’s new production of Verdi’s The Force of Destiny for English National Opera.

Morgen und Abend — World Premiere, Royal Opera House

The world premiere of Morgen und Abend by Georg Friedrich Haas at the Royal Opera House, London — so conceptually unique and so unusual that its originality will confound many.

Company XIV Combines Classic and Chic in an Exquisite Cinderella

Company XIV’s production of Cinderella is New York City theater at its finest. With a nod to the court of Louis the XIV and the grandiosity of Lully’s opera theater, Company XIV manages to preserve elements of the French Baroque while remaining totally innovative, and never—in fact, not once for the entire two and a half hour show—falls prey to the predictable. Not one detail is left to chance in this finely manicured yet earthily raw production of Cinderella.

Monteverdi by The Sixteen at Wigmore Hall

This was a concert where immense satisfaction was derived equally from the quality of musicianship displayed and the coherence and resourcefulness of the programme presented. In 1610, Claudio Monteverdi published his Vespro della Beata Vergine for soloists, chorus, and orchestra.

Dialogues des Carmélites Revival at Dutch National Opera

If not timeless, Robert Carsen’s production of Francis Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites is highly age-resistant.

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari: Le donne curiose

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari was one of the Italian composers of the post-Puccini generation (which included Licinio Refice, Riccardo Zandonai, Umberto Giordano and Franco Leoni) who struggled to prolong the verismo tradition in the early years of the twentieth century.

Moby-Dick Surfaces in the City of Angels

On Saturday evening October 31, 2015, the Nantucket whaling ship Pequod journeyed to Los Angeles Opera and began its sixth voyage in the attempt to kill the elusive whale called Moby-Dick.

Great Scott at the Dallas Opera

Great Scott is a combination of a parody of bel canto opera and an operatic version of All About Eve. Beloved American diva Arden Scott (Joyce DiDonato), has discovered the score to a long-lost opera “Rosa Dolorosa, Figlia di Pompeii” and has become committed to getting the work revived as a vehicle for her. “Rosa Dolorosa” has grand musical moments and a hilariously absurd plot.

Schubert and Debussy at Wigmore Hall

The most recent instalment of the Wigmore Hall’s ambitious series, ‘Schubert: The Complete Songs’, was presented by soprano Lucy Crowe, pianist Malcolm Martineau and harpist Lucy Wakeford.

A Bright and Accomplished Cenerentola at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Gioachino Rossini’s La Cenerentola has returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago in a production new to this venue and one notable for several significant debuts along with roles taken by accomplished, familiar performers.

La Bohème, ENO

Back in 2000, Glyndebourne Touring Opera dragged Puccini’s sentimental tale of suffering bohemian artists into the ‘modern urban age’, when director David McVicar ditched the Parisian garrets and nineteenth-century frock coats in favour of a squalid bedsit in which Rodolfo and painter Marcello shared a line of cocaine under the grim glare of naked light bulbs and the clientele at Café Momus included a couple of gaudily attired transvestites.

Luigi Rossi: Orpheus

Just as Orpheus embarks on a quest for his beloved Eurydice, so the Royal Opera House seems to be in pursuit of the mythical music-maker himself: this year the house has presented Monteverdi’s Orfeo at the Camden Roundhouse (with the Early Opera Company in January), Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice on the main stage (September), and, in the Linbury Studio Theatre, both Birtwistle’s The Corridor (June) and the Paris-music-hall style Little Lightbulb Theatre/Battersea Arts Centre co-production, Orpheus (September).

64th Wexford Festival Opera

Wexford Festival Opera has served up another thought-provoking and musically rewarding trio of opera rarities — neglected, forgotten or seldom performed — in 2015.

Christoph Prégardien, Schubert, Wigmore Hall London

Another highlight of the Wigmore Hall complete Schubert Song series - Christoph Prégardien and Christoph Schnackertz. The core Wigmore Hall Lieder audience were out in force. These days, though, there are young people among the regulars : a sign that appreciation of Lieder excellence is most certainly alive and well at the Wigmore Hall. .

The Magic Flute in San Francisco

How did it go? Reactions of my neighbors varied. Some left at the intermission, others remarked that they thought the singing was good.



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

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