El Mercurio
Juan Antonio Muñoz H.
Verdi: Otello, Royal Opera House, London, 21. Juni 2017
Everyone will want to hear and see Jonas Kaufmann’s extraordinary “Othello”
The word“extraordinary” represents well what the great German tenor achieves with this tremendous role, of such great vocal and dramatic demands. It rarely happens that an artist is capable of making something so much of his own that it does not resemble anything known before, becoming thereby incomparable. There is not nor ever has there been another Othello such as Jonas Kaufmann’s, as simple and surprising as that may be.

His Othello is, first of all, much more of a lover and an easily manageable man than a fierce warrior hero. Such a condition of triumphant general begins and ends with his “Esultate!”, because from then on Jonas Kaufmann develops a character who is undecided to the point of weakness, uncomfortable in the exercise of political leadership and in the company of soldiers. It could be said that he projects the Moor as a man who is even afraid of not fulfilling his wife sexually, an idea which ends up by making his later murderous rage more understandable, with the marriage already consummated.

The famous“glory of Othello” is an external triumph that is not related to what the Moor believes or thinks of himself, a feeling of perhaps social or racial impairment, which has broken his mind and soul.To this is added that very strange insistence that Desdemona loves him on account of his misfortunes and that he loves her for her pity: in fact, curious principles on which to base a love relationship.

The storm with which the opera begins is an extrapolation of what Kaufmann’s Othello is feeling inside. The affirmation of others is not sufficient for the Moor to annihilate the monster he has in his soul which does not let him live. The idea of stage director Keith Warner is both symptomatic and brilliant when he places Othello arising from the bottom of the earth to proclaim his victory at the precise moment in which Desdemona’s figure appears from above, like a light: it is to her that he sings his victory and not to the people. In short, he is saying, “I can”.

The duet with Desdemona was masterful in Kaufmann’s dark and velvety voice, including the pianissimo A in “Verene splende”. His acting progressed continuously until it reached the summit in the terrible duet with Desdemona and the stubborn insistence in the search for the handkerchief; in the monologue “Dio! mi potevi scagliar”,a prodigy of phrasing and construction during which his increasing anger is penetrated by an aristocratic authority that is accentuated by the magnificent physical presence of the tenor, and in the scene of the murder and subsequent suicide,where his fine musicality (unparalleled today in the world of opera), his nuancing capacity, the richness of his middle voice and his delivery translated themselves to an emotional state that took hold of the entire room.

María Agresta,whose voice has grown and who is apparently unable to fully control her vocal volume to address the more intimate lines, was all right. Her Desdemona is innocent, but not fragile. Unfortunately, Ludovic Tézier cancelled his debut as Iago, because he would have been a perfect complement for the complex design of Kaufmann’s Othello; there was also the Italian Marco Vratogna, who is a more than efficient singer but is not able to portray the thousand faces of that demon who claims to be constituted by evil. Kai Rüütel’s Emilia was a routine act; Frédéric Antoun as Cassio, In Sung Sim as Lodovico and Thomas Atkins as Roderigo were all very good.

Keith Warner’s production turned out to be a delight on account of its intelligence and disturbing beauty. The stage was understood as a sort of black box which, to a certain extent, “embodies” the darkness of the protagonist’s mind, with the light barely entering through small windows and filtering through walls of metallic arabesques. With virtual austerity, Warner built a picture of great psychological penetration, highlighting the chiaroscuri and a world of shadows where black and twilight blue predominate; the sky of the first act’s love duet has a new expressive opportunity with the night gown worn by Othello in the murder scene (one has to admit that it’s a suggestive idea).

With recollections of Murnau film images and references to the expressionist theater and mental world of Orson Welles “Othello”, the setting uses white only for Desdemona and the Venetian court, the same which makes its entrance at the most inappropriate moment, crushing with its anthropological and statuary opulence–of government, of class– what little there was left of the acclaimed Moor. Shakespeare, Verdi and Boito would have been happy with this look at their drama.

It was wonderful to have maestro Antonio Pappano on this historic evening!From its initial storm to themor end ochords of the last bars, the orchestra allowed us to listen to the thousand layers of this masterpiece and hundreds of details that are generally overlooked–such as the solo contrabasses during the last act– which tell us of a thick boiling of souls who inevitably walk towards condemnation.

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