Financial Times, 23 June 2017
by: Richard Fairman
Verdi: Otello, Royal Opera House, London, 21. Juni 2017
Otello, Royal Opera House, London — ‘much fine singing’
Jonas Kaufmann’s Otello is conceived on a human scale, his sound wonderfully burnished and romantic
It is 40 years since Plácido Domingo gave London the first glimpse of his Otello at the Queen’s silver jubilee gala. A generation of hopeful successors has come and gone in the role since then, but none has caused the stir of the latest, Jonas Kaufmann.

Insofar as any event on the opera stage can cause waves, this was it. People had come far and wide to see Kaufmann’s first Otello. They were met by much fine singing, a questionable new production of Verdi’s opera, and Kaufmann himself already probing the deep recesses of the title role.

In purely vocal terms, he is not yet of Domingo’s stature. The German tenor’s sound is wonderfully burnished and romantic, but he does not have Domingo’s lava flow of tone, let alone the volcanic force of a Jon Vickers. Kaufmann’s Otello is conceived on a human scale and that is what gives him individuality. Almost the only prop on the stage is a mirror in which Otello sees his inner devil. Kaufmann peers tentatively at his reflection and goes on to reveal a character crumbling to dust within. Self-aware, sensitively sung, this is Otello less as tragic hero than fragile human being, and movingly so.

It is to the credit of the director, Keith Warner, that he has worked with Kaufmann to create such a many-layered portrayal. For the rest, his production is an empty, abstract affair, set in a black box of mostly Stygian gloom. When it does venture a bold, scenic gesture, it is generally one to be regretted. The Venetian ambassador is heralded by a gigantic plaster lion and ludicrous white frilly costumes (for the men). Otello’s death scene is lit up like a shop window.

The cast, though, is first-rate. Marco Vratogna makes a superbly sardonic, trenchantly sung Iago from hell. Maria Agresta sings Desdemona with a clear, bright, true Italian soprano. Drawing heated playing from the Royal Opera orchestra, Antonio Pappano conducts with immense power, though not the drive that some of his predecessors have unleashed. In the Royal Opera annals this will go down not as a great Otello, but certainly a rewarding one.

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