Flemish Opera stages rare version of Otello


Thanks to Flemish Opera, there is a rare chance to see Rossini’s groundbreaking version of Shakespeare's story performed

Rossini's version calls for five tenors

Think of the opera Otello, and you probably think of Verdi. But first came Rossini, whose Otello, Ossia il moro di Venezia broke new ground in 1816 with its operatic treatment of Shakespeare’s story and arguably influenced Verdi’s treatment some 70 years later. Now, thanks to Flemish Opera, there is a rare chance to see Rossini’s version performed.

One reason this Otello is so rarely staged is that it calls for three tenor voices in the leading male roles, as well as another couple in support. Even if a company can draw on that many tenors, there remains the challenge of making each voice stand out.

Flemish Opera has addressed this by turning to Alberto Zedda, the 86-year-old director of the Pesaro Rossini Opera Festival and an expert in the composer’s work. As well as acting as musical director in this production, he has brought along some of his star tenors: Gregory Kunde in the title role, Maxim Mironov as Rodrigo and Robert McPherson as Iago. Carmen Romeu, who plays Desdemona, is also a Pesaro regular.

The character names may be true to Shakespeare, but Rossini and librettist Francesco Maria Berio played fast and loose with the original. Now the action takes place exclusively in Venice rather than moving early on to Cyprus, and there are some significant variations in the characters and their relationships. Yet the themes of jealousy, deception and racism all remain, with a tragic ending that was a brave departure from operatic convention at the time.

Originally staged last year in Zurich with a different cast, this production, directed by Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier, has an early 20th-century feeling to it. With settings ranging from high society to an immigrant cafe, the themes of class and race division come through loud and clear.

Flemish Opera

The Flemish Opera is Flanders’ only opera company. It boasts one choir, one orchestra and two opera houses, one in Ghent and one in Antwerp.
Recognition - The Flemish government has recognised the Flemish Opera as a “Grote Vlaamse Cultuurinstelling” (Great Flemish Cultural Institution).
Two - The Flemish Opera was born from the merger of the Vlaamse Opera Antwerpen and the Vlaamse Opera Ghent.
History - Operas have been staged in Antwerp since 1660 and in Ghent since the late 16th century.

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