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The reason usually given for the rarity of performances of Rossini's ''Otello'' is that Francesco Maria Berio di Salsa's

libretto is a hack job that makes hash of Shakespeare. If the characters were called by names other than Otello, Iago and Desdemona, audiences would have no idea that they were watching an operatic retelling of the drama. Another charge is that only the third act, when Desdemona meets her fate in the one segment that hews closely to Shakespeare, is truly inspired music. This judgment is unfair, for the first two acts have long stretches that are lyrically beguiling and imaginative. Perhaps the main reason that this opera seldom turns up is that it is so challenging to perform and difficult to cast. There were some pretty fancy tenors in the company in Naples for which Rossini wrote ''Otello,'' and he felt compelled to use them. So the opera contains three virtuosic tenor roles: Otello, Iago and Rodrigo, who becomes a full-fledged rival for Desdemona's love. You cannot imagine the Metropolitan Opera attempting Rossini's ''Otello'' any time soon. That is why we should be grateful to Will Crutchfield, an intrepid champion of bel canto opera, who conducted the Orchestra of St. Luke's, and a committed cast in a semi-staged performance of this work tonight at the Caramoor International Music Festival, where he is director of opera. Unfortunately, several singers were not up to the challenges of their roles, and the overall performance was shaky. To make matters worse, before the concert a stagehand fell, damaging two string basses. So there was only one for the performance. Still, this was a chance to hear the opera under the guidance of a musician who clearly grasps its style and significance. After Verdi's depiction of Otello -- the most colossal tenor role in the Italian repertory, a tormented, complex and pitiable characterization fully the equal of Shakespeare's tragic hero -- some operagoers may find it hard to accept a bel canto Otello who sings lilting tunes over oom-pah-pah accompaniments and dispatches phrase after phrase of coloratura roulades. A Rossini Otello should have both heroic power and bel canto agility. In your dreams imagine Jon Vickers combined with Alfredo Kraus. The tenor Carlo Scibelli gave the role his all. He has a beefy tone and considerable flexibility. But the high tessitura strained his voice, and the fleet passagework taxed his technique. The tenor Matthew Chellis has a rather lightweight lyric voice for the role of Iago, which lies somewhat low and needs a singer with more weight in his sound. Still, he and Mr. Scibelli understand that Rossini's highly ornamented vocal lines are meant to be mesmerizing and eerie, not just decorous and frilly. In the Act II duet where Otello's trust in Desdemona is dismantled by Iago's lies, the two unite in their determination to avenge Otello's disgrace. Here Mr. Scibelli and Mr. Chellis caught the right quality of oily lyricism and chilling coloratura. Though Rossini's Rodrigo is an ill-defined character (as if Shakespeare's Rodrigo and Cassio had been merged), the role is virtually as long and as difficult as Otello's. David Adams is

surely a better tenor than he sounded here. His voice had a bright ping, and he sang with an energy that matched his lithe physique. But in the end he was confounded by the music. The fullest characterization is that of Desdemona, who also has the most memorable music, especially in a scene that clearly resonated with Verdi, when she sings the beautiful ''Willow Song,'' accompanied by a consoling harp, and a gentle bedtime prayer. Though the soprano Marguerite Krull has yet to command the role fully, she brought rich, rosy sound and lyrical sensitivity to her portrayal. As a conductor Mr. Crutchfield was bursting with insightful ideas about the score. In places he kept the tempos swift and the phrasing crisp. When called for, though, he showed great restraint, allowing the vocal lines to flow and breathe. That said, he does not have the kind of technique that would enable him in a limited number of rehearsals to get even the fine players of this orchestra to execute his subtle interpretive ideas with comfort. He was at his best where it mattered most: in the passages of orchestra-accompanied dramatic recitative that dominate the score. In those moments you could sense Mr. Crutchfield virtually singing along with every line, trying to keep the dramatic pace taut and expectant. The soprano Georgia Jarman as Emilia, Desdemona's maid and confidante, sang sweetly. The most accomplished performance came from the robust baritone Daniel Mobbs as Elmiro, Desdemona's father. The great period of Italian 19th-century opera can be seen as framed by Rossini's ''Otello'' in 1816 and Verdi's ''Otello'' in 1887. Mr. Crutchfield will conduct Verdi's treacherously difficult version at Caramoor on July 21. But he has already made the point by giving us a chance to hear this neglected Rossini work. Photo: Will Crutchfield conducting a semi-staged performance of Rossini's ''Otello'' on Saturday night at the Caramoor International Music Festival. (Chris Maynard for The New York Times)(pg. E5)

Verdis Otello

Verdi is introduced to the idea of Otello[edit]


Verdi visited Milan on 30 June 1879, where he was present to conduct his Requiem Mass in a benefit performance at La Scala. He received the great acclaim of the public, which included the La Scala orchestra playing outside his hotel. Walker assumes that it was both Ricordi and Faccio who stage managed the effects to give the composer the sense of being welcome and respected in Milan.[11] Finally, after some plotting, Ricordi, in conjunction with Verdis friend, the conductor Franco Faccio, subtly introduced the idea of a new opera to Verdi. During a dinner at Verdis Milan residence during the summer of 1879, Ricordi and Faccio guided the conversation towards Shakespeares play Othello and to the librettistArrigo Boito (whom Ricordi claimed to be a great fan of the play also). Ricordi told the story to Giuseppe Adami, a librettist for three of Puccini's operas: The idea of a new opera arose during a dinner among friends, when I turned the conversation, by chance, on Shakespeare and on Boito. At the mention of Othello I saw Verdi fix his eyes on me, with suspicion, but with interest. He had certainly understood; he had certainly reacted. I believed the time was ripe.[12] Suggestions were made, despite initial skepticism on the part of the composer, that Boito would be interested in creating a new libretto based upon the play. Within several days, Ricordi approached Verdi with the request that he would like to visit Sant' Agata "with a friend" in September. Verdi's reaction was clearly non-committal: "I wish absolutely to avoid committing myself..[...] The best thing..is for him to send me the finished poem".[13] Meanwhile, Boito began work on the libretto in spite of illness and, by late October/early November had sent a copy of the work so far. After appealing to Giuseppina, Ricordi was told that the Verdis would be coming to Milan and that he would meet privately with Boito. However, she noted in her letter of 7 November: "Between ourselves, what Boito has so far written of the African seems to please him, and is very well done."[14] At this point the opera was being referred to as Iago rather than Otello, due to the tradition"an unwritten law of the theatre"[15]that any new opera would have a new title rather than that of one still in the repertoire, in this case by Rossini.

Role in Verdi's Otello

Voice type

Premiere cast, 5 February 1887[41] (Conductor: Franco Faccio[42])

Otello, a Moorish general

tenor

Francesco Tamagno

Desdemona, his wife

soprano

Romilda Pantaleoni

Iago, Otello's ensign

baritone

Victor Maurel

Emilia, wife of Iago and maid of Desdemona

mezzo-soprano Ginevra Petrovich

Cassio, Otello's captain

tenor

Giovanni Paroli

Roderigo, a gentleman of Venice

tenor

Vincenzo Fornari

Lodovico, ambassador of the Venetian Republic bass

Francesco Navarini

Montano, former Governor of Cyprus

bass

Napoleone Limonta

A herald

bass

Angelo Lagomarsino

Chorus: Venetian soldiers and sailors; and Cypriot townsfolk and children

Role in Rossinis Otello

Voice type

Premiere Cast, 4 December 1816 (Conductor: - )

Otello

tenor

Andrea Nozzari

Desdemona

mezzo-soprano

Isabella Colbran

Rodrigo

tenor

Giovanni David

Jago

tenor

Giuseppe Ciccimarra

Emilia

mezzo-soprano

Maria Manzi

Elmiro

bass

Michele Benedetti

The Doge of Venice

tenor

Gaetano Chizzola

Lucio

tenor

Nicola Mollo

A gondolier

tenor

Nicola Mollo

THE TEMPORAL DURABILITY OF SHAKESPEARES OTHELLO IN ITS MUSICAL REWRITINGS


Keywords: durability, musical dramaturgy, dichotomy, race, religion, sexuality, otherness. Abstract: This paper looks at the tragic vein in Shakespeares Othello as a fruitful source for operatic exploitation. The study compares the bards play and two of the operas it inspired across cultural borders, composed by Rossini and Verdi. It shows how the rigours of the operatic tradition imposed various transformations from spoken to sung language, entailing a dramatic metamorphosis which results in the alteration of the plot and the reduction of the number of acts and characters. Another central issue is that of translation and adaptation. The power and effect of Shakespeares language are weighed in the light of Frank Kermodes theories against the foreign librettists solutions. From a thematic point of view, this study analyses a number of disquieting black-and-white dichotomies, mainly regarding race, sexuality (Valerie Traub), religion and the occult. The realm of opera provides the possibility of increasing the dramatic tension and the ability of outlining characters through the means germane to music: tonal structure, rhythm, timbre, vocal virtuosity, etc. The paper analyses how the felicitous entwinement between dramatic warp and musical invention in the operas determines their temporal durability or transience, concluding that the otherness of these variants is enriching, increasing the fame, popularity and durability of Shakespeares tragedy.