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on 7 May 2014
In Rossini’s “Otello”, the Moor is tricked into thinking that Desdemona is unfaithful to him, she sings a beautiful song about willows and then it all ends badly. But that’s about where the similarities with the Shakespeare and Verdi versions end. However, as early nineteenth century libretti go, it’s still pretty good. My only real problem was not being able to understand why, given that she KNOWS that her letter to Otello has been intercepted by her father, she doesn’t simply mention it to Otello. This would have saved her a lot of grief!

Otello is one of Rossini’s very finest scores. It’s not performed nearly as often as it deserves to be, probably because of the difficulty of getting three top-notch tenors in one place at one time. This Zurich production manages just that. John Osborn is superb as Otello (he’s blacked up, which will doubtless upset a few people). The stand-out tenor is Javier Camarena as Rodrigo – in the Rossini version promoted from a bit-part to being the son of the Doge and Desdemona’s other suitor. He sings magnificently, both in the heroic and in the gentle quiet lyrical passages. Totally brilliant – I can understand why he’s been getting rave reviews at the Met recently. Edgardo Rocha as Iago also acquits himself well.

Of course, this is really Cecilia Bartoli’s show, and she’s brilliant – as well as being totally herself, of course! It’s a good thing that Rossini’s Desdemona is not Shakespeare’s naïve innocent, but a far more feisty and rebellious lady – which suits Bartoli very well.

The production is in modern dress (60s, I think?) but otherwise pretty much sticks to what was intended. The only thing that bothered me was that the first scene of Act 2, where Desdemona has a long confrontation with Rodrigo, is meant to be set in a garden, but here it’s set in Desdemona’s bedroom. No wonder Otello gets jealous!!

Sound and pictures are both superb. Technical details: 24-bit LPCM Stereo and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1.

All in all, thoroughly recommendable. To my knowledge, this is the only version currently available on DVD/blu-ray, and I suspect will remain so for some while.
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on 28 April 2016
This is perhaps one of the most disappointing production I have ever seen. The singing is SUBLIME Cecilia Bartoly is at her best with a mature voice pouring out the passion absolutely sublime. BUT Otello is Doge of Venice and the action appears to be in something that somewhat resembles a rather dingy second class waiting room at a 1950 railway station that incongruously has a billiard table in it and a somewhat dingy chandelier for lighting. I can only liken it to finding strawberries in a quagmire!!! It would be fabulous as an audio CD. I am not against modern or even way out productions ... I can even tolerate the Queen of the Night making her second major appearance from a refrigerator in Harnencourts last production of Magic flute with in one scene the three boys plucking chickens covered in blood !!! ... but this production of Otello is really quite awful!!
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Here we have yet another opera that someone has tried to ruin by adopting costumes out of keeping with the day and age in which the action is set as having taken place. Otello, who is supposed to be the commander in chief of a force which recaptured the island of Cyprus, is dressed in a battle dress type costume bearing the insignia of a a commander in the Royal Navy on the shoulders of his battle jacket. A Royal Naval commander is equivalent in rank to a Lieutenant Colonel in the army and is not high enough to be staff officer rank, which a commander of any large liberating force would need to be. Otello would, at the very least, have held the rank of naval commodore equivalent to brigadier general rank in the army. Rear admiral or major general rank would have been even more likely. Then again, he is wearing aiguillettes, which are normally worn only with dress or semi-dress uniform, on the right side of his dress jacket. Then again, if he's supposed to be a naval officer, why is he wearing army style battle boots? Iago and some minor characters were also clad in similar style modern military attire. We are told in the accompanying booklet that the costumes were designed by someone called Agostino Cavalca. If I couldn't design more appropriate costumes than these, I wouldn't want my name to appear anywhere in connection with them. It beggars belief that anyone could make such a hash out of designing costumes such as these travesties of the real thing.

Fortunately, Rossini's score, along with the singing and acting, more than compensate for this appalling gaff. Cecilia Bartoli gives an impressively convincing performance as Desdemona. Fortunately, there wasn't much the dress designer could do to mess up the straightforwardness of her simple black dress. John Osborn as Otello could not have sung better. It was as if he were saying: 'I know I look ridiculous, but just listen to my voice.' He gives a wonderful performance of a man so imbued with jealousy that he can't see the truth when it's staring him in the face.

Liliana Nikiteanu gives an excellent performance as Iago's wife, Emilia. If they were going to make a good job of adopting near-modern dress, then they should have done it along the lines of the clothes worn by Emilia in her trousers and cardigan, in which she looked quite convincing. I liked Javier Camarena in the role of Rodrigo, in which he gives a first-rate interpretation of the soppy besotted lover who won't take 'no' for an answer. Peter Kalman is good as Desdamona's father. He brings out the dislike his character has for the dark skinned Otello very convincingly.

If there's any weakness at all it might be in the portrayal of Iago by Edgardo Rocha, but then again this might be due to way in which Iago has been written into this particular plot used by Rossini for his composition. Nicola Pamio, who plays the part of the Doge of Venice is dressed in period costume, an incongruity that makes the use of Twentieth Century dress for all the other performers even more ridiculous. Ilker Arcayurek makes a good gondolier. I loved the conducting and the way the orchestra played.

Of course, mostly when we think 'Otello' we think 'Verdi', which was why I was in two minds about bothering with another composer's version of Otello. I thought that it would not be as good as Verdi's work because it wasn't so well known. I was mistaken. It's a truly great work. In fact a great production of an all time great that even dressing Otello in cor blimey trousers couldn't ruin. His dress reminds me of a song we used to sing:

My old man's a dustman;
He wears a dustman's hat;
He wears cor blimey trousers;
And lives in a council flat.

I love this great production in spite of Otello in his cor blimey trousers.
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on 25 August 2014
Wonderful singing in Rossini's rarely performed version of Otello. Desdemona is feisty and Rodrigo gets some of the best tunes! I prefer it to the Verdi version, especially the final act, where the music is haunting and Desdemona almost survives.
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on 3 September 2014
Don't hate me, I've tried, but I just don't like Ms. Bartoli's voice. I like Rossini, but this opera doesn't do it for me. I remember the Von State-Carreras recording. Her "Willow Song', was haunting and memorable. The men are great. blasting high notes throughout the performance. The production sucks. With production such as this one, they should have done a concert performance and saved some money. I'll listen to it again, maybe I'll like it better, but for now--no.
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on 7 July 2016
Met expectations with no difficulty.
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on 31 October 2014
great job!
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on 3 February 2015
very good
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on 27 October 2014
fine
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on 29 September 2014
Disk is in American format and DVD player nededs adjustment each time it is played
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