Otello at the Royal Opera House
The Royal Opera House pulled out all the stops in giving us a new production of this incredibly forceful Verdi opera, Otello. Keith Warner was asked to direct this new production and the cast of Jonas Kaufmann as Otello, Maria Agresta as Desdemona and Marco Vratogna as Iago was almost as good as it gets today.
Warner set the scene for an extraordinarily powerful evening with a fiery beginning. The Cypriot governor, Otello, returns from a naval battle with the Turks, but it is a stormy evening and Iago is praying for the ships destruction. During this tumultuous beginning of stage movement and chorus, Warner brings the ship on stage in an exciting backdrop and Otello arrives to famously sing ‘Esultate’. Here we have the first glimpse of what is likely to be a long journey for Kaufmann in this role.
Warner is an outstanding and clever director and does not give us an old traditional set. By using the same basic dark panelled sets and changing its format by the addition of extra sliding panels, he ensures that all the different acts are appropriately represented. After Desdemona’s death his clever use of light surrounding the bed was particularly impressive. With the surfeit of innovative ideas, he constantly sought to help the performers with the interpretation of their roles.
Unfortunately, not all of the interpretations were as clear and concise as one might have wanted. The most interesting was the performance of the evil Marco Vratogna in the role of Iago. His Lago was a consummate performance in the art of the dark and nasty. He has a substantial baritone voice, which was never overpowered elsewhere. The artistry of the Desdemona of Maria Agresta seemed somewhat understated in the first two acts, but came into her own in the fourth act, particularly with her most beautiful rendition of ‘Ave Maria’. She has a substantial attractive voice which fits this role perfectly, but her interpretation will undoubtedly mature.
The ‘white’ Otello of Jonas Kaufmann – his debut in the role – is not yet the finished article. He portrays all the necessary beauty in his voice for the role and his interpretation of Otello’s pain and suffering at the end seems genuine, but there is much more to give and undoubtedly much more to come in the future. His performance lacks the real edge and rawness of the Moor Otello. His interpretation is almost too aristocratic, with great vocal lines and wonderful light and dark moments, without the rough heft needed at some important points. He has a substantial elegant voice, but it is used in an attractive way without the real gruff needed. He is really good in the role, but not yet one of the greats. However, I suspect very few tenors have made such an accomplished debut.
Perhaps the real star of the evening was the forceful and energetic conducing of Antonio Pappano, who drove the ROH orchestra along with pace, but great sensitivity when required.
The performance was enhanced by the wonderful ROH chorus, who responded to Otello’s ‘Esultate’ outstandingly from the beginning and sung magnificently throughout.
Overall a very satisfying evening.
Wednesday 21 June 2017