Otello in Brooklyn! A promise kept!

In our interview with Sean Kelly last spring ( in anticipation of LoftOpera’s “Le Comte Ory”) Sean said “Ory will certainly not be the last rarity I conduct with LoftOpera, I promise!”

And,keeping his promise, Kelly is back with Rossini’s even rarer “Otello”, playing in March at Lightspace Studios in Brooklyn.

In spite of the intense preparation for these performances, Sean was kind enough to answer some more questions for us.

Q. Musically, what appeals to you ( as a Rossini lover) about this score? Some have said it has a particular “tint” which makes it different from other Rossini operas. Any thoughts?
A. There is so much in this score that I love. Many times with Rossini’s serious dramas, the scope is really big, (think Semiramide, Ermione) huge choruses, large casts etc. Otello is such an intimate opera, much of it really feels like a chamber work.

Q. You are of course credited with being the conductor, but some people may not know the additional responsibilities of a music director. Is this an extra challenge with an “unknown” opera?

A. One of the challenges with this opera is finding 3 distinct tenors that don’t sound like each other. Otello has this virile, martial vocality that is unique and very exciting to hear, compared with high-flying Rodrigo’s romantic, languid music. Of course Iago is the archetypal bad guy, smooth, elegant, and manipulative. As with all of Rossini’s operas, attention to detail in articulation and phrasing is of the utmost importance, and this opera is no different. The beautifully introspective slow movements of Otello are especially tricky. Among the many responsibilities as music director, I cast the shows and prepare the chorus as well.

Q. Some say that had Rossini entitled this opera Desdemona, then it would not have been overshadowed by Verdi’s Otello. The stories are quite different, but do you feel that Desdemona is more central to
this opera than Verdi’s ?
A. Rossini did such a beautiful job telling Desdemona’s story. We really get to see this woman’s journey, unlike in the Verdi where she is far more one-dimensional. The act 2 finale is such a riveting moment when we see her absolute breakdown, and all of act 3 is so poignant and heartbreaking. Rossini has already met Colbran, and was probably already in love with her, so it’s no surprise that he gave her so much beautiful music. Cecilia Violeta Lopez, our Desdemona, is a wonderful and committed artist both vocally and dramatically, so I have no doubt she’ll walk away with everyone’s heart.

Q Aside from the vocal challenges, does this score present any particular orchestral challenges??
A.Otello is the first opera Rossini composed ‘from scratch’ for Naples. He found himself surrounded by some of the best musicians on the peninsula, and you can really hear that in his writing. Complete virtuosity is required from all the winds, with many moments rich with sublime filigree.

Q. Are you as excited about these upcoming performances as we are?
A. New York hasn’t seen a staged production of Otello in decades, and I’m really very excited to be a part of it. I’ve been working individually with several of the principals for months, and I can not wait to start the rehearsal process. This one is going to be really special. Tickets are going fast, so don’t wait too long!

Thank you Sean Kelly and thanks for bringing Otello to us!

Excerpts from earlier interview below:

One of the fundamental challenges of keeping the Rossini revival alive is continuing to present his “less popular ” operas; this is a particular problem in the US where we are not blessed with the density of opera houses found in Europe. We can hardly expect the Metropolitan Opera to carry the “burden” since there doesn’t seem to be a lot of enthusiasm for Rossini among the “powers that be”.

In the old days we had the New York City opera to help out; those days are gone.

So what does it take? A music director with a passion for Rossini certainly helps. New Yorkers are so lucky that LoftOpera will soon be staging “Le Comte Ory ” under the guidance of Sean Kelly whose Rossini credentials ( playing ‘non più mesta’ on the horn, and accompanying Paolo Bordogna at the drop of a hat, are among them) auger well


Frontspiece of “Le Comte Ory”

Kelly and Paolo Bordogna having fun!

Kelly was kind enough to answer a few questions for Rossini America .

Q. Since we are “Rossini oriented” please tell us how you came to be a Rossini enthusiast!!!

Rossini has always been close to my heart! Many years ago I played the horn, and I actually began music school as a horn major. I would use ‘non più mesta’ as an exercise, (and my teacher would roll his eyes and laugh) and for my final jury before switching to piano, I played his ‘Prelude Theme and Variations’.

Q. You were a fantastic accompanist for the recital that Paolo Bordogna gave at the Casa Italiana in conjunction with the presentation from the Rossini Opera Festival! In fact it seemed like Rossini was second nature. Is it?

Thank you very much! I guess I’ve always understood his ‘language’, and the technical challenges of playing his music have always been a joy for me to try to conquer. His music seems so naturally fluid, and collaborating with an artist like Paolo was an absolute dream. I look forward to the next time!

Q. “Selling” Rossini in the US is not easy. The preference is for Puccini and after that Verdi. Any thoughts on why that is?

I wish I had an answer to that. It seems American audiences are lazy these days, and Puccini is much more of a ‘quick fix’ that doesn’t require much concentration from the audience. It breaks my heart that companies these days completely ignore the majority of operas of the early 1800’s in favor of the same 10 titles over and over that they believe ‘sell’. As artists and music makers, we’re obliged to challenge audiences to think a bit harder, and try to see or hear something they didn’t previously. Why they think Rossini won’t do that, but some third-rate modern piece will, is beyond me.

Q. Much as we all love Barbiere ( as Beethoven did) there is so much more to Rossini. You are leading LoftOpera’s venture with L’Comte Ory, which isn’t exactly standard fare. What prompted that choice ( or perhaps it was not yours)

Le Comte Ory is a true masterpiece! It has rich orchestrations, gorgeous choral writing, a myriad of brilliant roles, and it’s truly funny! I’ve been dying to do it, and when the stars align and the right singers, director and venue are all available, you can’t miss the opportunity. It will certainly be the most ambitious production we’ve done this far at LoftOpera. Last year I had the pleasure of conducting Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia with LoftOpera, another gem that’s unfortunately under-appreciated and woefully under-performed in the US. The audiences absolutely adored it!! Ory will certainly not be the last rarity I conduct with LoftOpera, I promise.

Q. OK, we should not be asking this, but…. do you have a favorite Rossini opera. And, after that, are there specific passages in Rossini that you feel illustrate his magic?

Oh that’s hard to answer! I adore so many of them.. L’italiana always makes me laugh, the Colbran operas are all divine. Viaggio and Ory are both such brilliant ensemble operas. Guillaume Tell is one of the proofs of the existence of God. How could I possibly choose?

We hope lots of Rossini fans will come to enjoy LoftOpera’s performances ( check out LoftOpera.com for details) Thanks to Sean for being the driving force behind this! Not sure that Tell would fit in the Loft, though!

horn and piano
And, in fact Sean has played this piece on the horn as well!!!