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

Bartók’s Duke Bluebeard’s Castle at the Barbican

Two great operas come from the year 1911 - Richard Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier and Bela Bartók’s Duke Bluebeard’s Castle. Both are masterpieces, but they are very different kinds of operas and experienced quite asymmetric performance histories.

Puccini’s Tosca at the Royal Opera House

Now on its ninth revival, Jonathan Kent’s classic Tosca for Covent Garden is a study in art, beauty and passion but also darkness, power and empire. Part of the production’s lasting greatness, and contemporary value, is that it looks inwards towards the malignancy of a great empire (in this case a Napoleonic one), whilst looking outward towards a city-nation in terminal decline (Rome).

ROH Return to the Roundhouse

Opera transcends time and place. An anonymous letter, printed with the libretto of Monteverdi’s Le nozze d’Enea con Lavinia and written two years before his death, assures the reader that Monteverdi’s music will continue to affect and entrance future generations:

London Schools Symphony Orchestra celebrates Bernstein and Holst anniversaries

One recent survey suggested that in 1981, the average age of a classical concertgoer was 36, whereas now it is 60-plus. So, how pleasing it was to see the Barbican Centre foyers, cafes and the Hall itself crowded with young people, as members of the London Schools Symphony Orchestra prepared to perform with soprano Louise Alder and conductor Sir Richard Armstrong, in a well-balanced programme that culminated with an ‘anniversary’ performance of Holst’s The Planets.

Salome at the Royal Opera House

In De Profundis, his long epistle to ‘Dear Bosie’, Oscar Wilde speaks literally ‘from the depths’, incarcerated in his prison cell in Reading Gaol. As he challenges the young lover who has betrayed him and excoriates Society for its wrong and unjust laws, Wilde also subjects his own aesthetic ethos to some hard questioning, re-evaluating a life lived in avowal of the amorality of luxury and beauty.

In the Beginning ... Time Unwrapped at Kings Place

Epic, innovative and bold, Haydn’s The Creation epitomises the grandeur and spirit of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment.

The Pearl Fishers at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its recent production of Georges Bizet’s Les pêcheurs de perles Lyric Opera of Chicago assembled an ideal cast of performers who blend well into an imaginative and colorful production.

New Cinderella SRO in San Jose

Alma Deutscher’s Cinderella is most remarkable for one reason and one reason alone: It was composed by a 12-year old girl.

La Cenerentola in Lyon

Like Stendhal when he first saw Rossini’s Cenerentola in Trieste in 1823, I was left stone cold by Rossini’s Cendrillon last night in Lyon. Stendhal complained that in Trieste nothing had been left to the imagination. As well, in Lyon nothing, absolutely nothing was left to the imagination.

Messiah, who?: The Academy of Ancient Music bring old and new voices together

Christmas isn’t Christmas without a Messiah. And, at the Barbican Hall, the Academy of Ancient Music reminded us why … while never letting us settle into complacency.

The Golden Cockerel Bedazzles in Amsterdam

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s fairy tale The Golden Cockerel was this holiday season’s ZaterdagMatinee operatic treat at the Concertgebouw. There was real magic to this concert performance, chiefly thanks to Vasily Petrenko’s dazzling conducting and the enchanting soprano Venera Gimadieva.

Mahler Das Lied von der Erde, London - Rattle, O'Neill, Gerhaher

By pairing Mahler Das Lied von der Erde (Simon O'Neill, Christian Gerhaher) with Strauss Metamorphosen, Simon Rattle and the London Symphony Orchestra were making a truly powerful statement. The Barbican performance last night was no ordinary concert. This performance was extraordinary because it carried a message.

David McVicar's Rigoletto returns to the ROH

This was a rather disconcerting performance of David McVicar’s 2001 production of Rigoletto. Not only because of the portentous murkiness with which Paule Constable’s lighting shrouds designer Michael Vale’s ramshackle scaffolding; nor, the fact that stage and pit frequently seemed to be tugging in different directions. But also, because some of the cast seemed rather out of sorts.

Verdi Otello, Bergen - Stuart Skelton, Latonia Moore, Lester Lynch

Verdi Otello livestream from Norway with the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Edward Garner with a superb cast, led by Stuart Skelton, Latonia Moore, and Lester Lynch and a good cast, with four choirs, the Bergen Philharmonic Chorus, the Edvard Grieg Kor, Collegiûm Mûsicûm Kor, the Bergen pikekor and Bergen guttekor (Children’s Choruses) with chorus master Håkon Matti Skrede. The Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra was founded in 1765, just a few years after the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra : Scandinavian musical culture has very strong roots, and is thriving still. Tucked away in the far north, Bergen may be a hidden treasure, but, as this performance proved, it's world class.

Temple Winter Festival: the Gesualdo Six

‘Gaudete, gaudete!’ - Rejoice, rejoice! - was certainly the underlying spirit of this lunchtime concert at Temple Church, part of the 5th Temple Winter Festival. Whether it was vigorous joy or peaceful contemplation, the Gesualdo Six communicate a reassuring and affirmative celebration of Christ’s birth in a concert which fused medieval and modern concerns, illuminating surprising affinities.

Mark Padmore and Mitsuko Uchida at the Wigmore Hall

The journey is always the same, and never the same. As Ian Bostridge remarks, at the end of his prize-winning book Schubert’s Winter Journey: Anatomy of an Obsession, when the wanderer asks Der Leiermann, “Will you play your hurdy-gurdy to my songs?”, in the final song of Winterreise, the ‘crazy but logical procedure would be to go right back to the beginning of the whole cycle and start all over again’.

Turandot in San Francisco

San Francisco Opera wrapped up its 95th fall opera season just now with a bang up Turandot. It has been a season of hopeful hints that this venerable company may regain some of its former luster.

Daniel Michieletto's Cav and Pag returns to Covent Garden

It felt rather decadent to be sitting in an opera house at 12pm. Even more so given the passion-fuelled excesses of Pietro Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana and Ruggero Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci, which might seem rather too sensual and savage for mid-day consumption.

Manitoba Opera: Madama Butterfly

Manitoba Opera opened its 45th season with Puccini’s Madama Butterfly proving that the aching heart as expressed through art knows no racial or cultural divide, with the Italian composer’s self-avowed favourite opera still able to spread its poetic wings across time and space since its Milan premiere in 1904.

Ian Bostridge and Julius Drake celebrate 25 years of music-making

In 1992, concert promoter Heinz Liebrecht introduced pianist Julius Drake to tenor Ian Bostridge and an acclaimed, inspiring musical partnership was born. On Wenlock Edge formed part of their first programme, at Holkham Hall in Norfolk; and, so, in this recital at Middle Temple Hall, celebrating their 25 years of music-making, the duo included Vaughan Williams’ Housman settings for tenor, piano and string quartet alongside works with a seventeenth-century origin or flavour.

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):