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Lawrence Brownlee and Khanyiso Gwenxane bring 'Otello' to life in our studio, before Festival O22

Opera Philadelphia artistic advisor Lawrence Brownlee singing a part from Rossini's 'Otello' at WRTI, on Sept. 9, 2022.
Ryan Hankins
Opera Philadelphia artistic advisor Lawrence Brownlee singing a part from Rossini's 'Otello' at WRTI, on Sept. 9, 2022.

For most opera fans, the name Otello is solidly associated with Giuseppe Verdi. Opera Philadelphia – in keeping with the spirit of its Festival O22 – will instead perform Gioachino Rossini’s lesser-known take on Shakespeare’s drama, with all the fireworks one can expect from a bel canto opera.

Premiering on Sept. 23, the production features star tenor and Opera Philadelphia artistic advisor Lawrence Brownlee, but not in the title role: he’s making his 18th Rossini role debut in the even more stratospheric part of Rodrigo, while South African tenor Khanyiso Gwenxane makes his American debut as Otello.

Both tenors recently stopped by the WRTI Performance Studio with Opera Philadelphia’s head of music staff, Grant Loehnig, to talk about the piece and give us a musical taste.

At this point in the opera, early in Act II, Rodrigo – who’d been promised the hand of a very reluctant Desdemona (mezzo Daniela Mack) by her father Elmiro (bass-baritone Christian Pursell) – has just found out that Desdemona is already married to Otello.

Rodrigo’s reaction is to swear vengeance on Otello. He’s just about to take his chance when the two sing a duet later in the act.

After Lawrence and Khanyiso got done singing, they sat down for a chat with me. We talked about both familiar and unfamiliar aspects of this new venture – with Larry learning a new role, Khanyiso singing on a new continent – and how they use their experience to help themselves along. We also talked about their characters and their rivalry. (I sat in the middle.)

Rossini’s Otello is part of Opera Philadelphia’s Festival O22. It will be performed at the Academy of Music on Broad Street on Sept. 23, 25 and 30, and Oct. 2.

For more information about the coming season, see our Classical Fall Preview.

John T.K. Scherch (JohnTK@wrti.org) shares the morning’s musical and other offerings weekdays on WRTI 90.1. Previously, he was the first new host on WBJC in Baltimore in nearly 20 years, hosting the evening, Sunday afternoon, and request programs, and he is also an alumnus of U92, the college radio station of West Virginia University and a consecutive national Station of the Year winner.