Gioachino Rossini: Otello 

Critical edition by Michael Collins

Rossini Critical Edition Principal differences between the critical edition and the existing versions of the score:

The critical edition emends the errors and inconsistencies in the sources and restores the musical text to its original state. It discusses in the critical commentary and provides solutions in the score to recurrent problems in the interpretation of Rossini’s autograph that have generated different and at times erroneous readings in existing versions.

The principal source for the critical edition is Rossini’s autograph which reflects faithfully the premiere of the opera at the Teatro del Fondo in Naples in December 1816. A number of other musical sources have proved very important in the preparation of the text: in particular, the manuscript copies of the era have made it possible to reconstruct a number of changes that were effected in the course of producing the opera and written down by Rossini on collettes that have subsequently gone missing; to these are to be added three manuscripts that contain autograph variations for the Canzone del Salice and the Preghiera (No. 10). All the sources are carefully described in the preface and the critical commentary.

The preface to the score (the section Self-borrowings and structural changes) offers a close examination of the changes effected or authorised by the composer – be they self-borrowings or structural changes. In particular: 
  • Otello and Desdemona’s Duet (No. 10): on two occasions Rossini uses for the orchestra the theme of “calunnia” from Don Basilio’s Aria in the Barbiere di Siviglia. This stratagem did not create any problem at the premiere of the opera, given that the Neapolitan audience had no knowledge of Il barbiere. At a certain unidentified point – perhaps during the early years of the Théâtre-Italien – Rossini covered over the relevant passage in the autograph with collettes that modified and rendered unrecognizable the theme of the “calunnia”. In the principal text the critical edition furnishes the modified version, but in Appendix I it makes available the original version of the entire allegro of the duet, thus making it possible to realise the version of the opera that was generally performed in the 19th century.
  • The sinfonia: the sinfonia of Otello is essentially the same as that of Sigismondo; this latter in its turn employed musical material from the Turco in Italia in the episode of the transition and in the coda. For the Otello sinfonia Rossini modified the Sigismondo sinfonia in a part of the transition and in the theme on the dominant. He was basically obliged to effect this modification because he had already used the theme of Sigismondo in the Finale I of his first Neapolitan opera, Elisabetta, regina d’Inghilterra. In addition, the sinfonia was entirely reorchestrated.
  • Iago and Rodrigo’s Duet (No. 3): Rossini had written a very brief theme for the cabaletta, which was then rethought and lengthened during the production of the opera and rewritten on collettes affixed to the autograph.
  • Rodrigo’s Aria (No. 6): Rossini initially indicated a cut in the repetition of the theme in the cabaletta. However, study of the autograph seems to suggest a further rethinking on the part of the composer who reinstated the entire repetition.
  • Desdemona and Emilia’s Scena and Mini-duet (No. 4): Rossini indicates a cut of two bars to the horn solo, particularly difficult to perform on a natural horn. The composer eliminated them and did not replace them in any way. The critical edition reintroduces the two bars, signalling in the score the cut effected in the autograph.
  • Duet Finale (No. 10): originally Rossini also set to music a couple of triplets (the texts of which are present in the libretto of the premiere) with a slow section but decided at the last minute to discard them. 

The preface to the score (the section Historical notes – Authentic revivals) contains a careful reconstruction of the productions of the opera subsequent to the premiere on which Rossini intervened either by effecting or authorising changes. In particular, the editor reconstructs the events pertaining to and the variants introduced during the course of the revivals in Rome in 1820, in London in 1824, and in Paris in the years between 1824 and 1828.

The critical commentary and the introduction to the score (the section Particular problems) deals with a number of problematic questions relating to Rossini’s musical notation (dotted rhythms, pauses, cadences, recitatives, derived passages marked “As above” and alterations) and to instrumentation (with particular attention to the percussion instruments and the horn). The preface to the score (the section Historical notes – The libretto and its sources) contains a detailed reconstruction of the sources used by the librettist Francesco Berio di Salsa to realise the poetic text.

This reconstruction is furnished with an extensive examination of the aesthetic approach of the Italian public and critics towards Shakespeare, the author of the tragedy from which the libretto is drawn. An understanding of the cultural context in which the opera saw the light of day is in fact essential in order to achieve a full understanding of the changes made to Shakespeare’s plot and to realise Rossini’s drama in a correct manner.