Jonas Kaufmann impresses with his finely judged phrasing, psychological acuity and seductive swagger
The Guardian, 11 Jun 2020
Erica Jeal
Verdi: Otello review – Kaufmann captains the drama but Pappano steers
Jonas Kaufmann’s interpretation of Otello moves between intensity and doubt while Pappano builds tremendous orchestral urgency and pace
There are only a handful of stars now for whom a major label will finance a full studio recording, and in the top three is Jonas Kaufmann, whose debut in the title role of Verdi’s Otello was the hottest ticket at the Royal Opera House three years ago. People still argue over how successful that first assumption was, but with this recording he puts his own stamp on it. Kaufmann’s Otello starts out as less the swaggering hero, more the serious commanding officer, and as he becomes more and more defined by his own instability he alternates between a taut, intense tone of anger and certainty and a less tightly focused, more burnished voice full of doubt – at times it’s almost a Jekyll-and-Hyde-type characterisation, but a subtler one than that might suggest. He dies well: quietly and movingly.

His Desdemona is a relative newcomer, Federica Lombardi, whose light and fresh-sounding soprano plays up the young bride’s innocence beautifully. There’s a little more depth to Verdi’s characterisation of her than she conveys here, but it’s not one of the composer’s most rounded roles: he, like Shakespeare and everyone else, was much more interested in Iago. He sounds properly dangerous as sung by Carlos Álvarez – forceful but smooth, he’s as much in control as Otello is volatile, and he sings his nihilistic Credo with relish, the orchestra hurtling along with him until the mention of death brings a moment of pause to make your skin crawl. Here and elsewhere, Antonio Pappano’s pacing wrings all the drama out of the music, without semaphoring or turning self-conscious. Whether building the mounting urgency of Otello and Desdemona’s confrontation or weaving the web of Iago’s deceit as he frames Cassio, Pappano gets an unflaggingly vivid performance from his Rome orchestra, and you could argue that the odd rough edge in the choral ensemble just adds to the drama. This Otello may be Kaufmann’s showcase, but it’s Pappano who really makes it sing.

 back top