Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Prom 54 - Mozart's Last Year with the Budapest Festival Orchestra

The mysteries and myths surrounding Mozart’s Requiem Mass - left unfinished at his death and completed by his pupil, Franz Xaver Süssmayr - abide, reinvigorated and prolonged by Peter Shaffer’s play Amadeus as directed on film by Miloš Forman. The origins of the work’s commission and composition remain unknown but in our collective cultural and musical consciousness the Requiem has come to assume an autobiographical role: as if Mozart was composing a mass for his own presaged death.

High Voltage Tosca in Cologne

I saw two operas consecutively at Oper Koln. First, the utterly bewildering Lucia di Lammermoor; then Thilo Reinhardt’s thrilling Tosca. His staging was pure operatic joy with some Hitchcockian provocations.

Haitink at the Lucerne Festival

Bernard Haitink’s monumental Bruckner and Mahler performances with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (RCO) got me hooked on classical music. His legendary performance of Bruckner’s Symphony No. 8 in C-minor, where in the Finale loosened plaster fell from the Concertgebouw ceiling, is still recounted in Amsterdam.

BBC Prom 45 - Janáček: The Makropulos Affair

Karita Mattila was born to sing Emilia Marty, the diva around whom revolves Leoš Janáček's The Makropulos Affair (Věc Makropulos). At Prom 45, she shone all the more because she was conducted by Jirí Belohlávek and performed alongside a superb cast from the National Theatre, Prague, probably the finest and most idiomatic exponents of this repertoire.

Two Tales of Offenbach: Opera della Luna at Wilton's Music Hall

‘Two outrageous operas in one crazy evening,’ reads the bill. Hyperbole? Certainly not when the operas are two of Jacques Offenbach’s more off-the-wall bouffoneries and when the company is Opera della Luna whose artistic director, Jeff Clarke, is blessed with the comic imagination and theatrical nous to turn even the most vacuous trivia into a sharp and sassy riotous romp.

Britten Untamed! Glyndebourne: A Midsummer Night's Dream

This performance of Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream at Glyndebourne was so good that it was the highlight of the whole season, making the term ‘revival’ utterly irrelevant. Jakub Hrůša is always stimulating, but on this occasion, his conducting was so inspired that I found myself closing my eyes in order to concentrate on what he revealed in Britten's quirky but brilliant score. Eyes closed in this famous production by Peter Hall, first seen in 1981?

Salzburg encores

A staged piano recital and an opera as a concert.  Pianist András Schiff accompanied the Salzburg Marionette Theater at the Mozarteum Grosser Saal and Anna Netrebko sang Manon Lescaut at the Grosses Festspielhaus.

Leah Crocetto at Santa Fe

On August 4, 2016, soprano Leah Crocetto and accompanist Tamara Sanikidze gave a recital at the Scottish Rite Center in Santa Fe New Mexico. A winner of the Metropolitan Opera Auditions and the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Contest, this year Crocetto was singing Donna Anna in Santa Fe Opera’s excellent Don Giovanni.

Angela Meade at Sante Fe

On July 31, 2016, against the ethereal beauty of the main hall in the Scottish Rite Center, soprano Angela Meade and pianist Joe Illick gave a recital offering both opera and art songs ranging in origin from early nineteenth century Europe to mid twentieth century America. Many in the audience probably remembered Meade’s recent excellent portrayal of Norma at Los Angeles Opera.

Turco in Italia in Pesaro

When more is definitely more, and less would indeed be less. Two of the biggest names in Italian theater art collide in an eponymous theater.

Proms Chamber Music 5: Shakespeare at 400

It was the fifth Proms Chamber Music concert at Cadogan Hall this season, and we were celebrating Shakespeare’s 400th. And, given the extent and range of the composers and artists, and the diversity and profundity of the musical achievement inspired by the Bard, we could probably keep celebrating in this fashion ad infinitum.

La donna del lago in Pesaro

Each August the bleak and leaky, 12,000 seat Arena Adriatica (home of the famed Pesaro basketball team) magically transforms itself into an improvised opera house that boasts the ultimate in opera chic — exemplary Rossini production standards for its now twelve hundred seats.

Proms at … Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

This highly enjoyable Prom, part of 2016’s ‘Proms at …’ mini-series, took as its guiding concept the reopening of London’s theatres following the Restoration, focusing in particular upon musical and dramatic responses to Shakespeare. Purcell, rightly, loomed large, with John Blow and Matthew Locke joining him. Receiving their Proms premieres were the excerpts from Timon of Athens and those from Locke’s The Tempest.

Santa Fe: Straussian Sweet Nothings

With all the bombast of the presidential campaigns rattling in our heads, with invectives being exchanged and measured discussion all but absent, how utterly lovely to retreat and relax into the harmonious soundscape and well-reasoned debate posed in Strauss’ Capriccio, on magnificent display at Santa Fe Opera.

Santa Fe’s Civil War Gounod

When we entered the Crosby Theatre for Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette the stage was surprisingly dominated by a somber, semi-circular black mausoleum, many chambers inscribed with scrambled names of US Civil War era dead.

Coolly Elegant Vanessa in the Desert

Molten passions were seething just below the icy Nordic exterior of Santa Fe Opera’s wholly masterful production of Barber’s Vanessa.

Le Comte Ory, Seattle

Farce is probably the most difficult of dramatic comedy sub-genres to put across. A farce got up in the stately robes of opera sets its presenters an even higher bar. Presenting an operatic farce on a notoriously chilly and cavernous auditorium is to risk catastrophe.

Racette’s Golden Girl in New Mexico

Fan interest began raging when Santa Fe Opera engaged venerable artist Patricia Racette to make her role debut as Minnie in Puccini’s La Fanciulla del West.

Santa Fe’s Mozart Cast Sweeps All Before It

A funny thing happened on the way to Andalusia.

Die Liebe der Danae in Salzburg

The tale of a Syrian donkey driver. And, yes, the donkey stole the show! The competition was intense — the Vienna Philharmonic and the Grosses Festspielhaus in full production regalia for starters.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Aleksandrs Antonenko as Otello and Anja Harteros as Desdemona [Photo © ROH/Catherine Ashmore 2012]
15 Jul 2012

Otello, Royal Opera

Elijah Moshinsky’s Otello, first seen at Covent Garden in 1987, and revived numerous times with a range of stellar casts, may be traditional and conservative, even — excepting the thunderous opening storm scene — somewhat uninventive;

Giuseppe Verdi: Otello

Montano: Jihoon Kim; Cassio: Antonio Poli; Iago: Lucio Gallo; Roderigo: Ji Hyun Kim; Otello: Aleksandrs Antonenko; Desdemona: Anja Harteros; Emilia: Hanna Hipp; Herald: Bryan Secombe; Lodovico: Brindley Sherratt. Conductor: Antonio Pappano. Orchestra of the Royal Opera House. Royal Opera Chorus. Director: Elijah Moshinsky. Set Designs: Timothy O’Brien. Costume Design: Peter J Hall. Lighting Design: Robert Bryan. Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London, Thursday 12th July 2012.

Above: Aleksandrs Antonenko as Otello and Anja Harteros as Desdemona

Except as otherwise indicated, photos © ROH/Catherine Ashmore 2012

 

but, aided by Timothy O’Brien’s impressively towering Cypriot pillars and gleaming marble and Robert Bryan’s resourceful lighting designs, Moshinsky provides a sumptuous spatial and visual arena for the interplay of powerful emotional forces, which can be harnessed by skilful protagonists to showcase the opera’s disturbing intensity and their own musical and dramatic arts.

Moshinsky and O’Brien aim for historical authenticity and unambiguous symbolism and gesture. Black and white chequerboard tiles hint at the racial antagonisms so vociferously presented in Shakespeare’s opening Act but which are only briefly voiced in Boito’s libretto. Rich, velvety crimsons reveal both the depth of the protagonists’ emotions — love, hatred, loyalty and jealousy — and their bloody consequences. The Christian iconography of the lush, Veronese-inspired Renaissance backdrops may be stretching the ‘tragic hero’ notion a little too far, especially given that the excision of most of Shakespeare’s first Act reduces the racial and religious antagonisms of the drama; moreover, the absence of Othello’s final ‘redeeming’ Act 5 monologue, which renders his suicide a restitution of nobility and an act of selfless service to the state, means that we feel pity but perhaps not catharsis at the end of the opera. But, the Crucifixion allusions do add to the timeless quality of the whole.

Initially, Lucio Gallo was a rather blustering, brawny Iago, tending towards noisy vociferousness; but, perhaps this was apt, for Iago is a rough, brash private, lacking Cassio’s gentle chivalry and graciousness. Moreover, Boito’s Iago is a simpler psychological portrait than Shakespeare’s elusive antagonist, his motivation less complicated and elusive, his machinations more transparently enacted. Although prone at the outset to slightly wearing shoulder-shrugging gestures of ‘innocence’, Gallo increasingly found, both in gesture and timbre, more subtle lights and shades — guiding and coercing Otello, bullying Roderigo, duplicitously consoling Desdemona, harrying Emilia. He made good use of the forestage, coercively involving the audience in his plotting while maintaining a scornful detachment; throughout the text was meticulously pronounced, and while arrogantly domineering, he largely avoided pantomime exaggeration. Gallo’s Credo was muscular and focused, as if inviting us to find him attractive, to fall under his spell as readily as his deceived captain. At the end of Act 2, as Iago and Otello fell to their knees to utter an appalling oath of brotherhood and vengeance, the slowly falling curtain intimated the ghastly, tragic fateful path which the ‘hero’ inescapable trod. Their immediate fore-curtain bow was well-deserved.

Otello_ROH_2012_02.gifHanna Hipp as Emilia, Anja Harteros as Desdemona and Lucio Gallo as Iago

Anja Harteros’ Desdemona had both innocent vulnerability and feisty self-possession — she was not a wilting violet but a self-possessed, if somewhat inexperienced, young woman, sure of her love and confident of its reciprocation; a worthy wife for a conquering hero. Despite her unwavering grace and loveliness, Harteros was never overshadowed or dominated; she commanded her scenes with a refined but charming presence, her gleaming, sweet timbre supported by a firm, steely underpinning when required, particularly in the middle voice. With her realisation that death is near and unavoidable, Harteros’ floated ever more delicate, ethereal vocal threads, as Desdemona paradoxically seemed both more powerful in her essential purity and increasingly defenceless before her husband’s deranged delusions. Although Harteros’ intonation was not always flawless, the long-breathed phrases that mattered spoke affectingly; her final angelic cry, elegantly poised and redolent with pathos, truly touched the heart.

So, given the acknowledged technical and dramatic challenges of the role, what of our Otello, the Latvian tenor, Aleksandrs Antonenko? If there were any doubts that vocally he is a worthy successor to his illustrious predecessors in the role, Antonenko’s triumphant first appearance immediately quelled them; his gleaming trumpeting roar, ‘Esultate’, instantly established Otello as a hero of noble grandeur and profound passions, and simultaneously confirmed the Latvian Antonenko as a mighty Italianate tenor with an infallibly lustrous tone and secure upper register. Though perhaps a little rigid dramatically, Antonenko convincingly depicted a man in torment, his external confidence and inner peace unravelling with every twist of Iago’s verbal knife. He had the stamina to project, if not conquer, the challenges of the low register of the Act 3 soliloquy. And, the slightly husky pianissimo rasps of his final fragmented, despairing “Desdemona”s revealed the extent of his psychological disintegration.

There were no weak links in the chain: Jihoon Kim as Montano, Ji Hyun Kimboth as Roderigo and Hanna Hipp as Emilia, all Jette Parker Young Artists, were professional, accomplished and engaging. Antonio Poli’s Cassio had an appropriately light-weight elegance which, dramatically, suggested both a debonair nonchalance and a perilously naive self-assurance.

Otello_ROH_2012_03.gifAleksandrs Antonenko as Otello, Anja Harteros as Desdemona and Antonio Poli as Cassio [Photo © ROH/Tristram Kenton 2012]

Antonio Pappano’s characteristic mastery of the score’s details brought forth nuances which were occasionally missing from the actual movements on stage, if not from the singing itself. From the ferocious storm that he conjured to a deafening but supremely controlled climax, to the portentous, insidious bass rumblings which permeate Act IV, Pappano was in total command, shaping the lines of the Act II quartet to energise the conflicting dramatic dialectics, pushing the vengeful close of the same Act to an agonizingly bitter climax. Every instrumental entry was crisp and clean, and the rhythmic propulsion never wavered, intensity and unrest sitting side by side with quietude and serenity.

The enlarged chorus roared in resplendent and well-marshalled fashion, but their role is fairly small (as was the space available, hence some rather stilted arm waving in the storm scene), and this performance was all about the three principals, whose prowess, consistency and professionalism brought praise-worthy technical flair and sincere depth of feeling to Moshinsky’s solid framework.

Claire Seymour

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):