Rossini: Otello

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Rossini
LABELS: Opera Rara
WORKS: Otello
PERFORMER: Bruce Ford, Elizabeth Futral, Ildebrando D’Arcangelo, William Matteuzzi; Geoffrey Mitchell Choir, Philharmonia Orchestra/David Parry
CATALOGUE NO: ORC 18
Forget Shakespeare, and certainly try and forget Verdi. Rossini’s early opera (1816), written for Naples, makes a brave stab at the lurid tale of the jealous Moor, but inevitably falls flat unless taken purely on its own terms, and seen within the conventions of its time. Part of the problem is its length: the first act is 70 minutes, and the drama doesn’t really bite until Act II. The other problem is that Rossini couldn’t resist the tenor voice: there are five of them in the opera, including Otello, Iago and Rodrigo. After a while it becomes rather difficult to tell them apart. No, if it’s Otello the drama you want, Rossini’s not your man.

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But who can resist some of these delicious tunes? Alright, it’s not vintage Rossini, but the lovely duet between Desdemona and Emilia in Act I, with its ‘throbbing heart’ accompaniment, is a little gem, and the trio and finale to Act II and most of the Third Act have one marvelling at Rossini’s inventiveness, even if it is drama in the major key.

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Some of the blame lies with this performance. The Iago is pallid, the Rodrigo a bantamweight. Futral sings Desdemona’s music beautifully, but the emotions are too generalised, particularly in her Willow Song. Bruce Ford is the most dramatically engaged member of the cast, and sings with exciting, bright tone. But David Parry’s conducting flares intermittently, and the studio recording is just that. One misses the whiff of greasepaint. Stick with the Philips/Carreras recording, on two mid-priced CDs. Adam Gatehouse