Evening Standard, 22 June 2017
Barry Millington
Verdi: Otello, Royal Opera House, London, 21. Juni 2017
An Otello to rank with the finest
Keith Warner's production of Verdi's opera is thought-provoking and stylishly abstract, writes Barry Millington
For perfectly sound reasons, the Otello in Verdi’s opera falls prey to jealousy even more precipitately than his Shakespearian counterpart. Rarely has that gnawing suspicion seemed as convincing or moving as in the keenly awaited portrayal by Jonas Kaufmann, making his debut in the role, as directed by Keith Warner. Kaufmann may occasionally resort to stock gestures but he modulates effortlessly between the amorous and the unhinged, grippingly charting the character’s psychological decline.

Warner’s thought-provoking production, with stylishly abstract, Moorish-inflected sets by Boris Kudlicka and elegantly timeless costumes by Kaspar Glarner, constantly deepens the perspective: a black-box set that simulates the incursion into a dark interior, skilful deployment of stage space to reflect connections and dislocations, and a full-length mirror that enables Otello (and us) to look into his own soul, seeing there perhaps his inner demon.

Inevitably the names of past great Otellos such as Vickers and Domingo were being bandied about the foyer. Ultimately such comparisons are pointless: what Kaufmann offers is a supremely burnished baritonal tenor with a ringing, heroic top but capable of extraordinary lyrical beauty in more intimate scenes. Kaufman, in case you were wondering, does not black up: Warner’s subtly delineated political context suggests other reasons for his fall from grace.

Marco Vratogna, whose Iago brandishes masks reminding us of his ability to adapt his persona for strategic purposes, is able to switch vocal registers with ideal ease. Maria Agresta’s Desdemona, unfailingly smooth of line, is deeply touching in the final bedchamber scene. Frédéric Antoun’s Cassio and In Sung Sim’s Lodovico also shine in a uniformly strong cast.

Central to the success of the evening is Antonio Pappano’s conducting. The opening storm scene is electrifying both musically and scenically, but Pappano consistently maintains the intensity while beguiling the ear with his attention to textural detail.

Traditionalists won’t like the production’s visual austerity, but the acuity of its psychological penetration, coupled with Warner’s trademark skill at character interaction, make this a worthy vehicle for an Otello to rank with the finest.

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