Gioachino Rossini (Composer),
Jesús López-Cobos (Conductor),
Philharmonia Orchestra of London (Orchestra),
Alfonso Losa (Performer),
Frederica Von Stade (Performer),
Giafranco Pastine (Performer),
José Carreras (Performer),
Keith Lewis (Performer),
Nucci Condo (Performer),
Salvatore Fisichella (Performer),
Samuel Ramey (Performer)
It is Verdi’s masterful opera Otello that most opera connoisseurs are familiar with, but Rossini’s Otelli is a different animal. On this Phillips recording we are treated to purely bel canto style drama that was typical of Rossini’s early operatic ventures, starring the talented singers Jose Carreras in the tenor lead of Otello, mezzo soprano Federic Von Stade as Desdemona, tenors Pastine and Fisichella as Cassio and Rodrigo and Samuel Ramey as the villainous Iago. The Spanish conductor Jesus Lopez Cobos lead the Philharmonia Orchestra. While musically speaking, this is inferior to Verdi’s Otello, it is still a superb bel canto piece, where the compelling drama takes a backseat and the focus is the beauty of the melodic lines and the singing; namely in fioritura arias for both tenor and mezzo soprano and the sumptuous ensembles. Rossini is not just a composer of innovative, bubbly, nearly Mozartian comedies like Barber of Seville, or the Italian Girl in Algiers. He enjoyed success in dramatic pieces like Elisabetta D’Inglaterra about Queen Elizabeth I of England and his masterpiece of grand opera William Tell. He took up the challenge of setting Shakespeare’s tragedy Othello into bel canto opera. He succeeded. This is the most beautiful bel canto drama I have ever heard. The singing is florid, the music is lively and there are a few moments in which the drama takes over. Particularly impressive are Jose Carreras as a very dramatic Otello, Federica Von Stade as a warm, vulnerable Desdemona and Samuel Ramey as the scheming Iago.
The pairing of Carreras and Von Stade was ideal, for they are able to portray the tragic couple with aplomb. Carreras more than any other tenor could convey insecurity and vulnerability in his singing of heroic roles.