Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

J. C. Bach: Adriano in Siria

At this start of the year, Classical Opera embarked upon an ambitious project. MOZART 250 will see the company devote part of its programme each season during the next 27 years to exploring the music by Mozart and his contemporaries which was being written and performed exactly 250 years previously.

Bethan Langford, Wigmore Hall

The Concordia Foundation was founded in the early 1990s by international singer and broadcaster Gillian Humphreys, out of her ‘real concern for building bridges of friendship and excellence through music and the arts’.

Tansy Davies: Between Worlds (world premiere)

An opera dealing with — or at least claiming to deal with — the events of 11 September 2001? I suppose it had to come, but that does not necessarily make it any more necessary.

Arizona Opera Ends Season in Fine Style with Fille du Régiment

On April 10, 2015, Arizona Opera ended its season with La Fille du Régiment at Phoenix Symphony Hall. A passionate Marie, Susannah Biller was a veritable energizer bunny onstage. Her voice is bright and flexible with a good bloom on top and a tiny bit of steel in it. Having created an exciting character, she sang with agility as well as passion.

Il turco in Italia, Royal Opera

This second revival of Patrice Caurier and Moshe Leiser’s 2005 production of Rossini’s Il Turco in Italia seems to have every going for it: excellent principals comprising experienced old-hands and exciting new voices, infinite gags and japes, and the visual éclat of Agostino Cavalca’s colour-bursting costumes and Christian Fenouillat’s sunny sets which evoke the style, glamour and ease of La Dolce Vita.

The Siege of Calais
——
The Wild Man of the West Indies

English Touring Opera’s 2015 Spring Tour is audacious and thought-provoking. Alongside La Bohème the company have programmed a revival of their acclaimed 2013 production of Donizetti’s The Siege of Calais (L’assedio di Calais) and the composer’s equally rare The Wild Man of the West Indies (Il furioso all’isola di San Domingo).

The Met’s Lucia di Lammermoor

Mary Zimmerman’s still-fresh production is made fresher still by Shagimuratova’s glimmering voice, but the acting disappoints

Voices, voices in space, and spaces: Thoughts on 50 years of Meredith Monk

When WNYC’s John Schaefer introduced Meredith Monk’s beloved Panda Chant II, which concluded the four-and-a-half hour Meredith Monk & Friends celebration at Carnegie’s Zankel Hall, he described it as “an expression of joy and musicality” before lamenting the fact that playing it on his radio show could never quite compete with a live performance.

St. John Passion by Soli Deo Gloria, Chicago

This year’s concert of the Chicago Bach Project, under the aegis of the Soli Deo Gloria Music Foundation, was a presentation of the St. John Passion (BWV 245) at the Harris Theater in Millennium Park.

Fedora in Genoa

It is not an everyday opera. It is an opera that illuminates a larger verismo history.

The Marriage of Figaro, LA Opera

On March 26, 2015, Los Angeles Opera presented Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro). The Ian Judge production featured jewel-colored box sets by Tim Goodchild that threw the voices out into the hall. Only for the finale did the set open up on to a garden that filled the whole stage and at the very end featured actual fireworks.

The Tempest Songbook, Gotham Chamber Opera

Gotham Chamber Opera’s latest project, The Tempest Songbook, continues to explore the possibilities of unconventional spaces and unconventional programs that the company has made its hallmark. The results were musically and theatrically thought-provoking, and left me wanting more.

San Diego Opera presents Adams’ Riveting Nixon in China

Nixon in China is a three-act opera with a libretto by Alice Goodman and music by John Adams that was first seen at the Houston Grand Opera on October 22, 1987. It was the first of a notable line of operas by the composer.

Ars Minerva presents Castrovillari’s La Cleopatra in San Francisco

It is thanks to Céline Ricci, mezzo-soprano and director of Ars Minerva, that we have been able to again hear Daniele Castrovillari’s exquisite melodies because she is the musician who has brought his 1662 opera La Cleopatra to life.

An Ideal Cast in Chicago’s Tannhäuser

Lyric Opera of Chicago, in association with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has staged a production of Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser with an estimable cast.

Madame Butterfly, Royal Opera

Puccini and his fellow verismo-ists are commonly associated with explosions of unbridled human passion and raw, violent pain, but in this revival (by Justin Way) of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, directorial understatement together with ravishing scenic beauty are shown to be more potent ways of enabling the sung voice to reveal the emotional depths of human tragedy.

Tosca in Marseille

Rarely, very rarely does a Tosca come around that you can get excited about. Sure, sometimes there is good singing, less often good conducting but rarely is there a mise en scène that goes beyond stock opera vocabulary.

Poetry beyond words — Nash Ensemble, Wigmore Hall

The Nash Ensemble’s 50th Anniversary Celebrations at the Wigmore Hall were crowned by a recital that typifies the Nash’s visionary mission. Above, the dearly-loved founder, Amelia Freeman, a quietly revolutionary figure in her own way, who has immeasurably enriched the cultural life of this country.

Arizona Opera Presents Magritte Style Magic Flute

On March 7, 2015, Arizona Opera presented Dan Rigazzi’s production of Die Zauberflöte in Tucson. Inspired by the works of René Magritte, designer John Pollard filled the stage with various sizes of picture frames, windows, and portals from which he leads us into Mozart and Schikaneder’s dream world.

Henry Purcell: A Retrospective

There are some concert programmes which are not just wonderful in their execution but also delight and satisfy because of the ‘rightness’ of their composition. This Wigmore Hall recital by soprano Carolyn Sampson and three period-instrument experts of arias and instrumental pieces by Henry Purcell was one such occasion.

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):