The other Otello

Just as Rossini’s version of Il barbiere di Siviglia completely eclipsed Paisiello’s version, so Verdi’s Otello sounded the death knell for an earlier version; ironically enough by Rossini.  It’s a bit surprising as the Rossini version is not bad at all despite having a rather patchy libretto and being hard to cast.  The first thing one notices is that the story isn’t even close to Shakespeare/Verdi.  This is because the libretto was based on a French play by Jean-François Ducis that was popular in the 18th century.  I don’t know whether the plot’s weaknesses are due to Ducis or the librettist but there are a few.  There’s no Cassio so the motivation for Jago’s plotting is unclear.  All the Venetian notables (bar perhaps the Doge) hate Otello but Jago doesn’t seem to have any special reason for animosity.  Between the end of Act 2 and the beginning of Act 3 Otello is exiled.  There is no explanation.  The finale is abrupt and weak.  Immediately after Otello kills Desdemona the gang of notables burst in to the room and appear to be completely reconciled to Otello and to him marrying Desdemona, despite having spent the rest of the opera chewing chips about this.  In fact one could argue that the happy ending variant (yes, there was one) is the more plausible as it would only take the guys to arrive about ten bars sooner for that to be the logical outcome.  As it is, Otello listens with incredulity to the change of heart and, not unreasonably, kills himself.

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La Comtesse Cecilia

Rossini’s Le Comte Ory is extremely silly.  It’s a crazy, gender bending romp with no real substance but plenty of rather crude humour and good tunes.  I suspect it’s beyond the wit of any director than do more than make sure the mad cap elements are mad enough but one is, I suppose, bound to try.  For their 2012 production in Zürich, Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier chose to set the piece in immediately post war France.  It works well enough and allows for a few visual gags but it doesn’t really add much to the piece.  Nor, though, does it detract.

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