Otello, ENO. Review by Julia Pascal.

 

The première of Verdi’s Otello at ENO was also a celebration of director David Alden’s 30th anniversary at the opera house.  American lyric soprano is a rich-voiced Desdemona making her UK debut.  Australian heldentenor, Stuart Skelton is a charismatic Otello who is matched outstandingly by Jonathan Summers’ cool Iago.  This is a magnificent production.

However if you go expecting an opera of the Shakespeare play you will be surprised.  In Arrigo Bolto’s libretto, Otello is described as The Moor but he is white and, therefore, the black-white sexual tension is absent from the story.  As this layer, is missing the focus in on the psychological power of suggestion, rather than the exploration of erotic love between a black man and a white woman.

The first scene starts with a lightening-filled stage and battle as Otello returns from defeating the Turks and then the focus pulls in, framing the principals while losing the sense of the outside world.  Despite the large chorus, and the number of bodies onstage, this take makes this recitative more of a chamber work which moves at speed from an epic narrative to a personal tragedy.

The décor and costumes are contemporary with the 1887 premiere which makes it look both nineteenth century and also rather modern.  Adam Silverman’s lighting throws strange shadows on Jon Morrell’s peeling Venetian walls adding a disturbing Expressionist cinematic layer.  The spareness of the aesthetic is pleasing and intensifies the emotion of the  music and drama.  Edward Gardner’s mastery of the orchestra was thrilling.

Julia Pascal © 2014.