VERDI: Otello (complete opera), Blu-ray (2014)Gregory Kunde (Otello)/Carmela Remigio (Desdemona)/ Lucio Gallo (Jago)/ Elisabetta Martorana (Emilia)/Francesco Marsiglia (Cassio)/ Antonello Ceron (Roderigo)/ Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro La Fenice/ Myung-Whun Chung Director: Francesco Micheli Studio: C Major (Unitel Classica) 716604 [Distr. by Naxos] Video: 16:9 1081i HD color Audio: PCM Stereo, DTS-HD MA Surround 5.1 Subtitles: German, English, French, Italian, Korean, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese No Region Code Length: 149 minutes Rating: ****1/2
ROSSINI: Otello (complete opera) (2014)John Osborn (Otello)/Cecilia Bartoli (Desdemona)/ Edgardo Rocha (Jago)/ Liliana Nikiteanu (Emilia)/Peter Kalman (Elmiro)/ Javier Camarena (Rodrigo)/ Zurich opera Supplementary Chorus/ Orch. La Scintilla of the Zurich Opera/ Muhai Tang Director: Oliver Simonnet Studio: Decca 074 3863 [Distr. by Universal] Video: 16:9 color Audio: PCM Stereo, DTS Digital Surround 5.1 Subtitles: German, English, French, Italian, Spanish, Chinese, Korean No Region Code Length: 156 minutes Rating: ****1/2
With Verdi, it really is that darned handkerchief that causes the problems for Otello, even though the composer ignores the first act of Shakespeare. With Rossini, it all comes down to a handwritten letter instead, and the Bard serves more as a mode of inspiration instead of any literal or slavish copycatting. What is fascinating is to hear these two operas side-by-side; I am not sure, in the end, which is truer to Shakespeare’s vision.
The Verdi probably is as it offers the most brutally direct presentation of the jealousy involved. In this production we actually see the demons of jealousy taunting Otello, and at the end there is a catharsis of sorts as the “spirit” of Desdemona rises to prod Otello into his own suicide. They end up walking off arm in arm, though there is a little incongruity in the subtle and almost eerie smile she gives him (which he does not see) before he plunges the dagger in. Somehow it works though, resolution at last to a tragedy that should never have happened, the lovers only able to find final consolation in the afterlife. Shakespeare never even remotely suggested something like this, though it does offer an unusual interpretative outlook.
The setting for this production is quite spectacular, taking place outside the Ducal Palace in the Italian city of Urbino in the Marche, a Renaissance building and UNESCO historical site. Differing projections are made on the beautiful walls which are very effective, and the use of modern devices is tastefully done. The time period looks to be Verdi’s own, and it works fine. American Gregory Kunde offers a sterling presentation while Carmela Remigio’s Desdemona, despite her rather small instrument, is nicely rendered and coupled with outstanding acting. The sound is “selective” surround, meaning that a lot of the time there is very little coming from the middle or back speakers, but it still works well.
For Rossini, this opera became one of the more popular of the first half of the nineteenth century, the second of ten serious works written for Neapolitan theaters over a seven year period, and his nineteenth opera, falling after the Barber of Seville and before Cinderella. It has hallmarks of his early and later styles, and bears little resemblance in its first two acts to Shakespeare aside from some general situations. The third act however, is revelatory in its dramatic persistence, even though I do think that Rossini fails in the very end to provide a suitable conclusion musically. But it’s a nice change of pace for listeners only used to Barber and other like-minded comedies.
John Osborn steals the show here, as well he should, with a finely-honed rendering of the anti-hero, and Bartoli, whose voice seems to have deepened over the years, is still as technically phenomenal as ever. The sets are quite modern, all tuxedos, evening dresses, and military uniforms, but in this work Shakespeare seems more universal time-wise than in most of his other plays. This is the DVD version (it is also available in Blu-ray) and the sound is first rate, the picture excellent though not HD quality. All forces play splendidly, and this opera in this performance could hardly be better.