ROSSINI Otello / John Osborn, Cecilia Bartoli 0743865

Sophisticated and expressive performance . . . an intelligent, modern-dress staging . . .

. . . it¿s always a treat to watch (and listen to) Italian opera superstar Cecilia Bartoli in action: she's still at the top of her game in these relative rarities by Giacomo Rossini, a comic romp and dark tragedy . . . the soprano is heartbreaking as the innocent Desdemona. On Blu-ray, the hi-def transfers and sound are peerless.

The major challenge of this work is its requirement for four tenors (none of whom can be second tier) and a stellar female lead. The current production fulfills these requirements and will satisfy operagoers enthralled by coloratura style, vocal embellishments, and all being at the top of the staff. Sensitive leadership by Maestro Tang, an experienced Rossinian, gives us a most satisfying two and a half hours . . . There is great visual synergy between Olivier Simmonet's dramatic concepts and his videographers. Stage action, such as it is, and the balance between panoramic shots and close ups is near perfect. "Otello" is one of Rossini's most dramatically intense operas and this video gets us right into the center of the drama.

. . . the stagecraft and sheer intelligence of the Leiser/Caurier production, set in modern times and acted with skill and imagination by the entire cast, make an extremely good case for [Otello] . . . Osborne sings with appreciable technical command and dramatic insight. So does Cecilia Bartoli, once again in shining form as Desdemona, while Javier Camarena returns in the beefed-up part of Rodrigo, seizing his every opportunity; the same can be said of Edgardo Rocha as the sinister Iago and Peter Kálmán as Elmiro . . . That the piece stands up so well is due not only to the cast and production; credit is also due to Muhai Tang, who certainly knows how to make Rossini's score sound vital and dramatically engaged.

Bartoli's powerful performance shines among an altogether impressive cast in Rossini's take on the Shakespeare story . . . This is very much an ensemble performance, meticulously staged and intelligently sung . . . One of the strengths of this production is the way Bartoli's hand-picked cast plays the recitatives, "lifting" the words to give the text eloquence and point. John Osborn's Otello is especially fine in this respect. Bartoli herself has come a long way since an early recital disc . . . The voice is darker now . . . gloriously full and free higher up. This is a powerful performance, strongly limned, freighted with feeling . . . the playing of the in-house Orchestra La Scintilla under veteran Chinese conductor Muhai Tang is as compelling as it is assured . . . Closely miked sound, vivid and well defined, helps the cause.

These two DVDs offer ample evidence of Camarena's capital Rossinian credentials, tragic and comic . . . they're a fine display of his range as a singer and an actor -- and they're also excellent, theatrically vibrant performances of the two marvelous operas at hand . . . [Muhai Tang] stylishly leading Zurich Opera's period band, La Scintilla. The ensemble, as ever, lives up to its name, its nimble wind players in particularly scintillating form . . . this practiced production team brings out the best in these two very different operas, and in the singers enacting them . . . John Osborn's Otello, keen-toned and commanding, looks the part to near perfection and acts with focused intensity . . . ["Otello" / Act 2]: Camarena pours out his grief first in hushed, honeyed cantilena, then in torrents of anguished fioritura . . . Later in the act, he and Osborn trade combative high Cs and Ds (and a little of Osborn's makeup) as they square off head-to-head in a display of tenorial prowess that, back when I was discovering Rossini, would have astonished operagoers. It's still pretty thrilling now. Behaving like a greedy child unleashed in a pasticceria, Edgardo Rocha employs his boyish mien and sweet tenor to make Iago's villainy all the more potent . . . As for our prima donna, all the familiar virtues (the warm, supple voice; the temperamental alacrity) and quirks (the puffed-up tone, the idiosyncratic articulation) are on display . . . she delivers her Verdi-prescient willow song and "preghiera" affectingly and fairly simply and rises bravely to her fatal showdown with Otello . . . ["Le comte Ory"]: [Bartoli] manages the tessitura adroitly and masticates with relish every comic morsel thrown her way, as in Act I when she morphs (inside Ory's hilariously garish love-shack trailer) from bespectacled spinster to unbuttoned amante. And Camarena's Ory, wonderfully and gracefully sung, is a comic marvel, a rubber-faced operatic Jonathan Winters whose oleaginous antics offer endless delight . . . [Liliana Nikiteanu is very funny] as Ragonde: one of the production's most delicious moments is hers, as the excitement-starved ladies of Countess Adele's entourage breathlessly watch her thread a needle. But there are many such joys in Leiser and Caurier's staging . . . For both operas, sound and picture are crystal-clear.

. . . [Rossini is] the source of [Bartoli's] operatic fame. She's a riveting tragic actress, as she amply demonstrates in this modern-dress "Otello" from Zurich . . . Rossini stages one of the most exciting tenor competitions imaginable . . . and the spectacular singing required of them would ideally call for Juan Diego Flórez to be triplets . . . The challenge to find three such tenors is great, but John Osborn (Otello), Javier Camarena (Rodrigo), and Edgardo Rocha (Iago) fit the bill. So by no means is this Bartoli's show. We wait until act III for her grand scenes . . . We get a "Willow Song", Desdemona's prayer, and the terrifying death scene. Bartoli is a feisty performer, and this works too, since this Desdemona is like a defiant Carmen facing her murderer . . . Thanks to exemplary camera work, exciting singing, a sure-fire last act, and Bartoli's charisma, this is likely to stand as the best video "Otello" for a long while.

John Osborn steals the show here, as well he should, with a finely-honed rendering of the anti-hero, and Bartoli, whose voice seems to have deepened over the years, is still as technically phenomenal as ever. The sets are quite modern, all tuxedos, evening dresses, and military uniforms . . . This is the DVD version (it is also available in Blu-ray) and the sound is first rate, the picture excellent . . . All forces play splendidly, and this opera in this performance could hardly be better.

John Osborn looks and acts convincing as Othello, and his strong tenor fits the role perfectly. The Iago, Edgardo Rocha, . . . when he is allowed to show his evil nature, he does it quite convincingly. He is also one of the crop of young Rossini tenors who seem able to deal with all the difficulties Rossini throws his way. His second-act duet with Othello is some of the most exciting music in the score . . . [Javer Camarena] is simply perfect as Rodrigo. Whether called on to sing a melting legato line or toss off the typical Rossini fireworks, Mr Camarena does it well . . . [Cecilia Bartoli]: a full, complete portrayal of the strong-willed but finally fragile creature that is Desdemona. Bartoli is beautiful; she gives a totally committed performance; and she sings everything as if Rossini had written it with her in mind, whether the vocal fireworks at the end of Act II or the plaintive "Willow Song" and prayer of Act III. The death scene is extremely well staged and acted by Mr Osborn and Ms Bartoli . . . The supporting cast is fine, as is the leadership of Muhai Tang and the playing of the Zurich Opera forces. The essay by Philip Gossett is quite worth reading.

Vocally this is a spectacular performance all across the board . . . Bartoli is the obvious star here, and she remains at her vocal peak even if in her mid-40s when this was recorded. The florid technique remains secure with rapid runs and passagework -- nothing ever smudged, no rhythms ever distorted. In addition, the legato is still seamless, the tone pure, and she sings with urgency. This is a voice that announces itself as an instrument of importance every time a sound is produced. In addition, she has continued to improve as an actress, and she manages to convey Desdemona's strength and vulnerability, both characteristics inherent in the lady . . . What is astonishing about this performance, though, is its success with three tenor roles . . . Osborn, Camarena, and Rocha all triumph, in their solos and their ensembles. The duet from act II between Otello and Iago is brilliant. Camarena's tender wooing of Desdemona, though unsuccessful in the story, will melt your heart. Osborn is (like Bartoli) brilliant at embellishing second verses of his solos . . . This is an extraordinarily inventive, beautiful, dramatic, and powerful score, with terrific solos, duets, trios, and big ensembles. Muhai Tang's conducting is one of the other strengths of the performance. He shapes the music lovingly, but never lets the energy flag. He gives the singers all the room they need to shape their lines, while keeping things taut. That balance between flexibility and tautness is very hard to find, and Tang manages it perfectly . . . Video direction that is very effective, willing to stay with shots for a time instead of jerking around frequently, and excellently balanced recorded sound round out this very important video. No lover of Rossini can afford to pass it up.

. . . eminently collectable . . . ["Le comte Ory" DVD / Blu-ray]: Vocally there is much to enjoy . . . Camarena relishes the Count's high tessitura, using both full voice and "voix mixte" for the top notes, according to their context . . . Bartoli is in great voice, with perfectly oiled coloratura, touching in the highest notes of this soprano part (none of which is sustained) most delicately. Rebeca Olvera's Isolier is clearer in timbre and stronger in manner, as befits the young, hot-blooded page. Oliver Widmer has his moment of glory in Raimbaud's solo "Dans ce lieu solitaire", which he dispatches with top-speed patter, fluent runs and sureness in the wide-ranging register . . . ["Otello" DVD / Blu-ray]: The whole of Act 3 is magnificently done . . . The last few minutes of the opera are overwhelming . . . Bartoli's interaction with her partners is strikingly vivid . . . Bartoli's every word in the extensive recitatives tells (these are given complete), and she fills Rossini's coloratura with dramatic meaning . . . John Osborn has all the notes for Otello . . . Rossini's writing is always excitingly dramatic, and Zurich's three tenors know how to make the most of it. Edgardo Rocha's steely-voiced Iago exudes malevolence through every note . . . and the recording catches his every insidious aside . . . Peter Kálmán brings a menacing, dark bass to the calculating politician Elmiro . . . [in both operas, the use of the period-instrument orchestra] comes into its own in the numerous interludes that introduce and punctuate the set pieces . . . Muhai Tang conducts enthusiastically, and the orchestra nicely realizes Rossini's (surely unique) marking of "smorfioso" ("simpering").

. . . [Muhai Tang sucht] mit dem La Scintilla-Originalklangorchester einen aufgerauten, nachdrücklichen, dramatisch gestauchten Ansatz. Das passt gut zum hervorragenden Singquartett der Cecilia und ihrer drei Tenöre. Die Bartoli schert sich nicht um Nebengeräusche, Japsen und Prusten, sie sucht Wahrhaftigkeit und schleudert jede Koloratur als Kampfpartikel heraus. Auf Augenhöhe: John Osborns pracht- und jammervoller Otello, emotional zerrissen, aber vokal wunderbar ausbalanciert zwischen Vehemenz uns sehnigen Höhen. Edgardo Rochas Iago ist da greller, charaktervoller. Und der technisch so sattelsichere Javier Camarena als Rodrigo . . . der ist für Tenorsüße und sehr hoch gelagerten Wohlklang zuständig.

Wenn die wundervolle Cecilia Bartoli singt, darf man sich immer auf Außergewöhnliches freuen, so auch bei ["Otello" und "Le comte Ory"] . . . Die Bartoli singt die Partie der Desdemona mit einer solchen Leidenschaft und Hingabe, dass einem der Atem stockt. Dass sie auch eine umwerfende Komödiantin ist, kann die Bartoli in Rossinis "Le Comte Ory" zeigen. Wie sie hier aus der Rolle der Comtesse Adèle ein in intensiven Farben schillerndes Charakterportrait macht, wie sie Gesit und Esprit versprüht, das sucht seinesgleichen. Auch ihr Umfeld bleibt Rossini nichts schuldig.

Decca a en effet eu la bonne idée de graver cette production avec la superlative Cecilia Bartoli comme point d'ancrage . . . John Osborne nous ravit d'aigus sublimes et virtuoses, Javier Camarena apporte une élégance aristocratique et glaciale à la fois tandis qu'Edgardo Rocha offre quant à lui un naturel et une évidence qui ancrent cette distribution dans le réel. Saluons également en cette réussite le travail réalisé avec le chef chez qui on sent une belle attention aux détails et à l'expressivité . . . Un comble quand on a pour soi Cecilia Bartoli. En tout point au-dessus de tout qualificatif, elle justifie à elle seule, s'il était besoin, l'acquisition de ce programme. Tant de musicalité (désarmant "Air du Saule"), tant de virtuosité et de présence vocale sur toute la tessiture . . . La mezzo-soprano fait montre d'un évident esprit d'équipe, tant dans les ensembles vocaux que dans son rapport à l'orchestre, notamment lors des récitatifs orchestrés, parfaitement millimétrés quant aux notes et au texte . . . Images: La production particulièrement sombre profite au maximum de la Haute Définition . . . [les contrastes] sont assez probants . . . Son: Le mixage stéréo offre une très bonne lisibilité à l'expression vocale que l'orchestre soutient au mieux . . . Le message global est particulièrement clair et une dynamique agréable accompagne l'écoute. Avec la piste multicanale, la projection vocale est accentuée au point d'apporter un relief supplémentaire à l'image. Les timbres vocaux sont mieux affichés et l'orchestre trouve une étoffe digne de ses musiciens. La dynamique, bien supérieure, électrise la scène avant, secondée par un caisson de graves parfaitement intégré à l'ensemble.

John Osborn possède tous les atouts indispensables au rôle-titre: graves nourris, médium puissant et un aigu facile et arrogant. Doté d'un timbre plus clair et légèrement métallique, Edgardo Rocha est un Iago méchant à souhait. Javier Camarena enfin -- voix veloutée, vocalises déliées, suraigu décoiffant -- fait de Rodrigo un héros romantique. S'il participe à l'intrigue de Iago, s'il attaque Otello, c'est par amour pour Desdémone. Celle-ci trouve en Cecilia Bartoli une interprète de premier rang. Parfaitement à l'aise dans cette tessiture ambigue, mi-mezzo, mi-soprano, elle triomphe des vocalises périlleuses du finale II avant de nous toucher dans une romance du saule profondément habitée. Parmi les rôles secondaires, soulignons la belle voix chaude de Liliana Nikiteanu en Emilia et l'Elmiro puissant de Peter Kálmán. Muhai Tang, au pupitre d'un orchestre La Scintilla brillant de tous feux, s'avère un excellent chef rossinien, tour à tour énergique ou élégiaque, détaillant avec finesse les richesses instrumentales de l'orchestration . . . [la caractérisation des personnages et la direction d'acteur] forcent le respect. Points de gestes vides, de bras ouverts sans raison, de mains portées pathétiquement sur la poitrine. Au contraire: même dans les airs les plus longs où rien ne s'y passe et le texte est répété pour la dixième fois, le jeu des chanteurs reste crédible. C'est déjà beaucoup . . .