OTELLO OSSIA IL MORO DI VENEZIA
A triumvirate of tenors for a Desdemona assoluta
Cecilia Bartoli has struck gold once again with a coloratura role that lets her showcase not only her virtuosity, but also her overwhelming gracefulness. As Desdemona in Rossini’s “Otello ossia il Moro di Venezia,” Bartoli injects this early work with stage-dominating life. Supported by three bravura tenors and an orchestra playing on period instruments, she makes every opera lover ask why this work is not performed more often – and supplies the answer with her bravura colleagues: it is a rare opera house that can muster up a cast of such vocal artistry and fireworks.
Rossini premiered his “Otello” – loosely based on Shakespeare – in Naples in 1816. The storyline hinges not on Otello’s jealousy and Iago’s machinations, as in Verdi’s work, but on the conflict between Desdemona and her father Elmiro. Desdemona has secretly married Otello, whom Elmiro hates because of his black skin and because he has been granted the highest awards from the Venetian Doge. Once hugely popular, the work disappeared from the opera stage after the premiere of Verdi’s “Otello” in 1887.
Musically dominating the production is Cecilia Bartoli, who transforms Rossini’s runs and passages into “arrows which she hurls forth with such precision, clarity and emotional power that Otello’s dagger seems like a toy in comparison” (Tages Anzeiger). Foremost among Bartoli’s worthy partners is the triumvirate of tenors: American tenor and bel canto specialist John Osborn as Otello, Mexican tenor Javier Camarena as Rodrigo and his Uruguayan colleague Edgardo Rocha as Iago, who all boast an extraordinarily supple yet distinctive voice.
The Zurich Opera’s early-music ensemble “La Scintilla” provides a historically appropriate backdrop for the arias and ensembles, many of which call for a solo instrument, such as the harp in the tender “Song of the Willow Tree.” Widely admired Rossini conductor Muhai Tang supplied the necessary “Bel canto brio” (DrehPunktKultur). Setting their production team in the 1960s, the directorial team of Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier have subtly touched upon the sadly ever-current topic of racism, here particularly in the form of Elmiro’s hatred of Otello. The elegantly appointed sets by Christian Fenouillat and period costumes by Agostino Cavalca add to the visual sensuality of the production.