|Otello, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, review|
|Written by news desk - telegraph.co.ukm|
The Royal Opera's production of Verdi's Otello is opera at its thrilling, visceral best, writes Hugo Shirley.
The day after the Royal Opera’s run of Berlioz’s whopping Les Troyens came to an end, one might have expected Antonio Pappano and his orchestra to betray signs of fatigue. Not a bit of it. Fired up by the dramatic testosterone that pulsates through every vein of Verdi’s Otello, they delivered brilliantly in this revival of Elijah Moshinsky’s 25-year-old production. It’s been perfunctorily yoked, via the World Shakespeare Festival, to the London 2012 juggernaut, but, with a sensational leading couple heading the cast, this Otello provides a bracing and muscular conclusion to a Covent Garden season that has too often felt flabby and ill-focused.
Admittedly, the production itself, with its faux marble and masonry, twee period affectations and a boot-polished protagonist, is something of a museum piece. Timothy O’Brien’s imposing sets, atmospherically lit by Robert Bryan, still have a faded, broody grandeur that’s appropriate, though, and Moshinsky himself has returned to bring detail to his direction of the principals.
Aleksandrs Antonenko, who featured briefly but impressively in Il trittico at the beginning of the season, sings Otello with the kind of security and smooth, finely regulated tone that’s supposed to be impossible in the role. The voice might lack that final ounce of trumpety steel, but it’s a big, thrilling and beautiful sound, and the Latvian tenor is also an affecting actor. Anja Harteros was to have featured in both Trittico and a recent revival of La Bohème. She failed to turn up, citing the standard diva get-outs, for either. But any residual ill feeling among the Royal Opera faithful (and the management, too, let’s hope) will surely have melted when faced with her supreme Desdemona. The voice is meltlingly gorgeous, but with enough edge and volume to save it from being inertly so, and is exquisitely employed, while her acting mixes easy nobility with humanity. This is a glorious, heart-breaking performance.
Lucio Gallo’s frayed, occasionally ill-tuned Iago can’t match his colleagues vocally, but he marshals his less lavish resources sensibly and acts well enough; his evil, though, very much of the panto villain variety, is never entirely convincing. Antonio Poli’s breezy Cassio makes a strong impression at the head of a fine supporting cast, along with Hanna Hipp’s stirring Emilia and Brindley Sherratt’s sincere Lodovico – no rest for these two after Troyens duty either. Pappano underpins everything with leonine dynamism to deliver opera at its thrilling, visceral best.