This production of Rossini's Otello could count on a vocal cast of stratospheric quality, despite the fact that director Amos Gitai’s initial claim to depict the drama as the story of a migrant, just like modern refugees, was a fatuous suggestion. And it proved useless, as it had no further development during the rest of the performance, as if Gitai didn't have a precise idea of what staging this opera implied.

John Osborn (Otello) and Nino Machaidze (Desdemona) © Luciano Romano | Teatro San Carlo
John Osborn (Otello) and Nino Machaidze (Desdemona)
© Luciano Romano | Teatro San Carlo

For example, during the martial music when Otello lands and approaches the Doge, the chorus and extras (who should take part in the procession or at least move somewhat choreographically) don’t know what to do, just floating about the stage at their ease.

The main reason why Rossini’s Otello was chosen to open the new season at the San Carlo was because it was in Naples that it premiered exactly 200 years ago. Although not everyone may be familiar with it, during most of the 19th century this opera, with its romantic, tragic atmosphere, was considered as one of Rossini’s masterpieces: a finely wrought, dramatic work with three tenors taking the main male roles and some beautiful ensembles. Unfortunately, in 1887, Verdi presented his own Otello, which replaced Rossini’s in the popular repertoire, to the joy of those who complained that Rossini had significantly altered Shakespeare’s plot.

Gaia Petrone (Emilia) and Nino Machaidze (Desdemona) © Luciano Romano | Teatro San Carlo
Gaia Petrone (Emilia) and Nino Machaidze (Desdemona)
© Luciano Romano | Teatro San Carlo

Actually, librettist Francesco Berio di Salsa did not draw on Shakespeare’s play, but on secondary sources which assigned a more important role to Rodrigo than to Iago. The differences in the plot from Verdi’s masterpiece are apparent: among others, Rossini’s Otello and Desdemona have no exchanges as happy lovers, and Iago doesn't have a strongly characterised aria. What results may not be Rossini’s greatest score, but it is worth bringing it back to the operatic stage. There is some gorgeous music, mainly in the third act, which exudes a sense of true tragedy: Desdemona’s Willow Song is as beautiful as Verdi’s, and many passages are filled with pathos.

The vocal cast was led by John Osborn as Otello, a fine interpreter of a role that is highly difficult as it requires both a baritonal register and strong high notes, along with coloratura dexterity and dramatic insight.

Nino Machaidze was an outstanding Desdemona, showing radiant technique and clarity, sensitivity in vibrato and phrasing, along with sweetness and despair in her stage presence. Her rendering of the Willow Song was outstanding as was her intense prayer before Otello kills her.

Juan Francesco Gatell (Iago) and Dmitry Korchak (Rodrigo) © Luciano Romano | Teatro San Carlo
Juan Francesco Gatell (Iago) and Dmitry Korchak (Rodrigo)
© Luciano Romano | Teatro San Carlo

Dmitry Korchak was able to exploit every facet of the role of Rodrigo, to whom he lent his flexible technique and sound voice. As for the part of Iago, Juan Francisco Gatell convincingly portrayed the sinister traitor, getting through the role confidently. Mirco Palazzi was an elegant Elmiro, and Gaia Petrone, as Desdemona’s maid and confidante Emilia, depicted a fine character, clearly contrasting and blending wonderfully well with Machaidze's voice.

In the pit, an impeccable San Carlo Orchestra and Chorus was led by Gabriele Ferro. His conducting, meticulous as it was, mainly in the overture, seldom raised the level of the tragedy, though it lacked some vigour. Ferro did not show the dynamism we expected from him, which perhaps favoured the singers but not the audience’s attentiveness.