Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

La forza del destino at Covent Garden

Prima la music, poi la parole? It’s the perennial operatic conundrum which has exercised composers from Monteverdi, to Salieri, to Strauss. But, on this occasion we were reminded that sometimes the answer is a simple one: Non, prima le voci!

Barbara Hannigan sings Berg and Gershwin at the Barbican Hall

I first heard Barbara Hannigan in 2008.

New perceptions: a Royal Academy Opera double bill

‘Once upon a time …’ So fairy-tales begin, although often they don’t conclude with a ‘happy ever after’. Certainly, both Tchaikovsky’s Iolanta and Ravel’s L’enfant et les sortilèges, paired in this Royal Academy Opera double bill, might be said to present transformations from innocence and ignorance to experience and knowledge, but there is little that is saccharine about their protagonists’ journeys from darkness to enlightenment.

Desert Island Delights at the RCM: Offenbach's Robinson Crusoe

Britannia waives the rules: The EU Brexit in quotes’. Such was the headline of a BBC News feature on 28th June 2016. And, nearly three years later, those who watch the runaway Brexit-train hurtle ever nearer to the edge of Dover’s white cliffs might be tempted by the thought of leaving this sceptred (sceptic?) isle, for a life overseas.

Akira Nishimura’s Asters: A Major New Japanese Opera

Opened as recently as 1997, the Opera House of the New National Theatre Tokyo (NNTT) is one of the newest such venues among the world’s great capitals, but, with ten productions of opera a year, ranging from baroque to contemporary, this publicly-owned and run theatre seems determined to make an international impact.

The Outcast in Hamburg

It is a “a musicstallation-theater with video” that had its world premiere at the Mannheim Opera in 2012, revived just now in a new version by Vienna’s ORF Radio-Symphonieorchester Wein for one performance at the Vienna Konzerthaus and one performance in Hamburg’s magnificent Elbphilharmonie (above). Olga Neuwirth’s The Outcast and this rich city are imperfect bedfellows!

Monarchs corrupted and tormented: ETO’s Idomeneo and Macbeth at the Hackney Empire

Promises made to placate a foe in the face of imminent crisis are not always the most well-considered and have a way of coming back to bite one - as our current Prime Minister is finding to her cost.

Der Fliegende Holländer and
Tannhäuser in Dresden

To remind you that Wagner’s Dutchman had its premiere in Dresden’s Altes Hoftheater in 1843 and his Tannhauser premiered in this same theater in 1845 (not to forget that Rienzi premiered in this Saxon court theater in 1842).

WNO's The Magic Flute at the Birmingham Hippodrome

A perfect blue sky dotted with perfect white clouds. Identikit men in bowler hats clutching orange umbrellas. Floating cyclists. Ferocious crustaceans.

Puccini’s Messa di Gloria: Antonio Pappano and the London Symphony Orchestra

This was an oddly fascinating concert - though, I’m afraid, for quite the wrong reasons (though this depends on your point of view). As a vehicle for the sound, and playing, of the London Symphony Orchestra it was a notable triumph - they were not so much luxurious - rather a hedonistic and decadent delight; but as a study into three composers, who wrote so convincingly for opera, and taken somewhat out of their comfort zone, it was not a resounding success.

WNO's Un ballo in maschera at Birmingham's Hippodrome

David Pountney and his design team - Raimund Bauer (sets), Marie-Jeanne Lecca (costumes), Fabrice Kebour (lighting) - have clearly ‘had a ball’ in mounting this Un ballo in maschera, the second part of WNO’s Verdi trilogy and which forms part of a spring season focusing on what Pountney describes as the “profound and mysterious issue of Monarchy”.

Super #Superflute in North Hollywood

Pacific Opera Project’s rollicking new take on The Magic Flute is as much endearing fun as a box full of puppies.

Leading Ladies: Barbara Strozzi and Amiche

I couldn’t help wondering; would a chamber concert of vocal music by female composers of the 17th century be able sustain our concentration for 90 minutes? Wouldn’t most of us be feeling more dutiful than exhilarated by the end?

George Benjamin’s Into the Little Hill at Wigmore Hall

This week, the Wigmore Hall presents two concerts from George Benjamin and Frankfurt’s Ensemble Modern, the first ‘at home’ on Wigmore Street, the second moving north to Camden’s Roundhouse. For the first, we heard Benjamin’s now classic first opera, Into the Little Hill, prefaced by three ensemble works by Cathy Milliken, Christian Mason, and, for the evening’s spot of ‘early music’, Luigi Dallapiccola.

Marianne Crebassa sings Berio and Ravel: Philharmonia Orchestra with Salonen

It was once said of Cathy Berberian, the muse for whom Luciano Berio wrote his Folk Songs, that her voice had such range she could sing the roles of both Tristan and Isolde. Much less flatteringly, was my music teacher’s description of her sound as akin to a “chisel being scraped over sandpaper”.

Rossini's Elizabeth I: English Touring Opera start their 2019 spring tour

What was it with Italian bel canto and the Elizabethan age? The era’s beautiful, doomed queens and swash-buckling courtiers seem to have held a strange fascination for nineteenth-century Italians.

Chameleonic new opera featuring Caruso in Amsterdam

Micha Hamel’s new opera, Caruso a Cuba, is constantly on the move. The chameleonic score takes on a myriad flavours, all with a strong sense of mood or place.

Ernst Krenek: Karl V, Bayerisches Staatsoper

Ernst Krenek’s Karl V op 73 at the Bayerisches Staatsoper, with Bo Skovhus, conducted by Erik Nielsen, in a performance that reveals the genius of Krenek’s masterpiece. Contemporary with Schreker’s Die Gezeichneten, Schoenberg’s Moses und Aron, Berg’s Lulu, and Hindemith’s Mathis der Maler, Krenek’s Karl V is a metaphysical drama, exploring psychological territory with the possibilities opened by new musical form.

A Sparkling Merry Widow at ENO

A small, formerly great, kingdom, is on the verge of bankruptcy and desperate to prevent its ‘assets’ from slipping into foreign hands. Sexual and political intrigues are bluntly exposed. The princes and patriarchs are under threat from both the ‘paupers’ and the ‘princesses’, and the two dangers merge in the glamorous figure of the irresistibly wealthy Pontevedrin beauty, Hanna Glawari, a working-class girl who’s married up and made good.

Mozart: Così fan tutte - Royal Opera House

Così fan tutte is, primarily, an ensemble opera and it sinks or swims on the strength of its sextet of singers - and this performance very much swam. In a sense, this is just as well because Jan Phillip Gloger’s staging (revived here by Julia Burbach) is in turns messy, chaotic and often confusing. The tragedy of this Così is that it’s high art clashing with Broadway; a theatre within an opera and a deceit wrapped in a conundrum.

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):