Otello – Rossini – Royal Opera House – Covent Garden
I commenced my Millennium season’ (2000) at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden by seeing Rossini’s opera Othello (or The Moor of Venice) which is in no way to be confused with Verdi’s Othello though both are inspired and based on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.
I saw the performance on Tuesday 15 February; unusual for an Opera that starred three tenors (though not the famous “three“ I might add. In this case they were Bruce Ford as Othello, Kenneth Tarver as Rodrigo and Octavio Arevalo as Iago (Othello’s secret enemy). Rodrigo, of course, is in love with Desdemona but her unsuccessful suitor. Robin Legatte played Rodrigo’s father, a Doge of Venice. Desdemona’s father Elmiro by Alastair Miles, Desdemona’s confidante Emilla by Leah-Marian Jones. Mariella Devia played Desdemona (Othello’s lover and secret wife).
The original scenery buildings, painting, props and costumes came from the Rossini Opera Festival - Pesaro and the Italian wig-make Mario Audeloo of Torino supplied the wigs for Bruce Ford and Mariella Devia.
For Rossini this was one of his most famous works, composed in 1816 with libretto by the Marchese Francesco Berio di Salsa although it was always overshadowed by the Verdi version composed in 1887. Gianluigi Gelmetti conducted the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House.
The Rossini version of Shakespeare’s tale of doomed love was somewhat hampered by a lack of real passion of terror on the part of the lovers. One gets no real impression of the strength of love between Othello and Desdemona or the power struggle of Iago and Othello. Mariella Devia is really at her best in her solo of the somewhat ghostly Willow Song with its foreboding and omens of the coming disaster; also her beautiful singing of the Prayer.
(The invention of the cabaletta – a quick and brilliant final section of an aria after the slow movement – is attributed to Rossini and he set the mood for European opera form throughout the 18th Century. The use of the caballetta was shown at its finest in the impressive aria between Othello and Iago.)
Othello has one real movement of delight – the charming gondolier’s song sung offstage to Dante’s poignant words.
Although the smaller roles were good, particularly Alistair Miles as Desdemona’s father, overall the opera was somewhat weak.
Doubtless everyone knows the story. Othello wrongly believes his wife has had an affair with Rodrigo. He stabs her and them finally stabs himself: too late he had learned from Rodrigo that she had always been faithful. Ah!!!