Express, Jun 22, 2017
Verdi: Otello, Royal Opera House, London, 21. Juni 2017
Opera review: Otello at the Royal Opera House
THERE are two sounds in this world that surpass all others in the feelings of exultation they can induce in the ear of a listener: the glorious smooth tenor voice of Jonas Kaufmann and the stunning power of Antonio Pappano conducting Verdi.
The current production of Otello at the Royal Opera House offers both together and the result is wonderful.

Earlier this year, Kaufmann dropped out of a number of scheduled performances around the world with what sounded like a hugely worrying health problem.

A blood vessel on his vocal cords had burst, which sounds like something terrible to happen to a singer. As he showed at Covent Garden on Thursday night, however, to the considerable relief of his fans, his voice is now back to its best, in both tone and power, and his acting abilities are as compelling as ever.

The plot is taken straight from Shakespeare and features, in case you have forgotten, the Moorish leader Otello who loves his wife, Desdemona, but is tricked into believing that she has been unfaithful to him.

The wicked Iago, whom Otello mistakenly trusts, piles on the misery with trumped up evidence until Otello murders Desdemona then kills himself when he discovers that he has been tricked.

The plot is packed with emotion, which makes it gloriously operatic, and Verdi’s music, conducted with such panache and commitment as Pappano brings to the job, is perfect for enhancing the tension.

The power of the emotional line beaufitully shifts between the singers and the orchestra, with Pappano ensuring that a perfect balance is maintained. The whole point of opera is to tell a story in both music and acting, and the interplay between them adds a dimension that even Shakespeare could hardly have imagined.

Apart from singing beautifully, Kaufmann gives a convincing portrayal of Otello’s descent from powerful, confident and loving into unsure and suspicious, finally veering into madness and vengeance.

Dramatically he is helped by Italian soprano Maria Agresta as a beautiful and vulnerable Desdemona and French baritone Marco Vratogna as a splendidly villainous Iago. This is one of the great villains in both literature and opera and Vratogna displays a delicious blend of smarminess and wickedness in his portrayal of the part.

Both Otello and Iago are hugely demanding roles in this opera, but both Kaufmann and Vratogna rise to the challenge and, aided by Pappano and the Covent Garden Orchestra show how powerful Verdi’s music truly is.

My one disappointment of the evening was the production itself, directed by Keith Warner with sets by Boris Kudlicka. This aspect seemed, for the Royal Opera, to be uncharacteristically muted. In several recent productions, directions have been justly criticised for introducing elements that were inappropriate but this went the other way; visually the production had little to offer.

When the directorial team came onto the stage at the end, there was some booing. I’m not sure why. I can understand booing when a director has done something appalling, but when he’s done nothing much to add to the audience’s enjoyment, showing strong disapproval in this way is not merited.

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