Bruce Beresford directs Australian premiere of Rossini’s Otello
Following the critical and public success of Tristan and Isolde and Der Rosenkavalier, Melbourne Opera will complete its powerful 2018 season with the Australian premiere of Rossini’s dramatic masterpiece Otello.
Otello’s original premiere is considered a momentous milestone in the history of opera, while Melbourne Opera’s Australian premiere will mark the 150th anniversary of Rossini’s death; opening at The Athenaeum on 17 October.
In a major coup for the independent opera company, Academy Award nominated director Bruce Beresford will helm Melbourne Opera’s new production. Beresford will direct a distinguished cast of international and Australian singers, led by the widely lauded Stephen Smith (Opera Australia) in the title role, with award winning soprano Elena Xanthoudakis (Greek National Opera) as his ill-fated lover Desdemona. Both singers began their careers with Melbourne Opera, before establishing distinguished international careers.
Based on Shakespeare’s famed play Othello, Rossini’s opera was an instant hit when it was first performed in Italy in 1816. It remained incredibly popular until the late 19th century when it was eclipsed by a new version of the opera by Giuseppe Verdi. Since then, Rossini’s masterpiece has been somewhat overlooked and much more rarely performed, until the late 20th century when it began to be performed again in Europe, leading to a triumphant production at Covent Garden in 2000.
Beresford believes that a re-examination of Rossini’s Otello quickly reveals the jewel that it is.
“Rossini’s Otello is intensely dramatic and his characters are incredibly well drawn-out. The skill and complexity of Rossini’s scoring and vocal settings are superb and the final scene, the death of Desdemona, is a unreserved masterpiece,” he says.
One of Australia’s most revered film directors, with credits such as Driving Miss Daisy and his new release Ladies in Black (in cinemas September), Beresford is also an accomplished opera director. Since directing his first opera – Puccini’s Girl of the Golden West – in 1986, Beresford has gone on to direct several Australian and international operas, such as Of Mice and Men and A Streetcar Named Desire for Opera Australia.
Rossini’s Otello features no less than five demanding tenor roles, the first filled by the outstanding Stephen Smith in the formidable title role. Smith returns to Melbourne Opera off the back off several acclaimed principal roles for Opera Australia, including Gastone in La Traviata, Mercury in Orpheus in the Underworld and Ottavio in Don Giovanni.
As the arresting Desdemona, luminous international soprano Elena Xanthoudakis is sure capture the unwavering attention of Melbourne audiences. In addition to an illustrious international career, she is much-loved by Melbourne Opera audiences since her Green Room Award nominated performance of the title role in Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda (Mary Stuart), a role she also performed in the second instalment of Tudor trilogy, Anna Bolena.
Other cast include the multi Green Room Award nominated Henry Choo, with commanding tenors Boyd Owen (Carnegie Hall), Paul Biencourt (Victorian Opera, Opera Australia) and Michael Dimovski (Richard Divall Emerging Artist) joined by bass Roger Howell, who also received a Green Room nomination for Melbourne Opera’s Der Freischűtz. Dimity Shepherd (Opera Australia, Victorian Opera) will play Desdemona’s maid Emilia.
Rossini’s Otello is immensely influential in the history of opera, particularly in the third act (the murder of Desdemona), where Rossini breaks new ground in operatic drama and sets the stage for composers such as Bellini, Donizetti and early Verdi.
Beresford’s production will be staged in the setting that Rossini intended, 15th Century Venice.
“Otello deals with such fundamental human passions, which are expressed through effective libretto and suburb emotional music. The original setting feels appropriate for this, our Australian premiere. It serves to emphasise the drama in a way no modern setting could hope to do,” says Beresford.
Melbourne Opera Director Greg Hocking and Head of Music Raymond Lawrence will conduct the company’s acclaimed orchestra, bringing Rossini’s incredible score to life, full of exciting ensembles, arias and duets between duelling tenors.
The Australian premiere of Rossini’s Otello builds on Melbourne Opera’s unique reputation for staging bel canto operas. The company’s recent bel canto productions include Donizetti’s Tudor Trilogy, Bellini’s I Puritani, Rossini’s The Barber of Seville and Italian Girl in Algiers. Bellini’s Norma is scheduled to be performed in September next year.
Melbourne Opera, which receives no government funding, is Victoria’s busiest opera company, staging three or four full-scale main stage productions and many concerts – including significant international touring – each year. The company gives emerging singers and musicians invaluable professional experience in the company of distinguished experienced artists. As well as mainstream repertoire, Melbourne Opera is committed to presenting lesser-known masterpieces.
IMAGE: Highly lauded film director Bruce Beresford will direct Melbourne Opera’s Australian premiere of Rossini’s Otello. (Photo courtesy of Ladies in Black, in cinemas 20 September)