With electrifying principals, sharp staging, lighting and set design, director Keith Warner’s 2017 production beautifully highlights that the division between the martial and marital worlds depends on the position of an “I”.
The twin egos at the centre are tenor Gregory Kunde’s eloquent, utterly commanding Otello, and baritone Carlos Alvarez’s Mephistophelian Iago. Kunde’s firm and pure tenor sends thrills down the spine, as does Alvarez’s mesmerising, majestic baritone. Ermolena Jaho gives an assured and sensitive performance as Desdemona, with exquisite pianissimos lending a quiet power to rival the scheming bombast of both male leads.
The Royal Opera Chorus thrills us from the start, with an extraordinary opening storm. The Orchestra of The Royal Opera House are on top form, conducted with gusto and sensitivity by the brilliant Antonio Pappano. They effortlessly encompass the vast peaks and troughs of Verdi’s bombastic score with supreme subtlety.
Less successful is the climatic murder, with pageant-like simplicity of staging that does not seem to match the production’s confidence elsewhere, with engaging fight direction (Ran Arthur Braun), and some coups de théâtre, including where the stage itself mimics Cassio’s enforced intoxication, with moving walls.
Little attempt is made to represent the racial questions that Otello raises. It would be encouraging to see The Royal Opera engaging more deeply with these questions. That said, this remains a production of outstanding theatrical and musical literacy.
Otello is back until 22 December 2019.