OTELLO | London, Royal Opera House

During its genesis, Verdi’s co-creators referred to Otello as Iago, after the Machiavellian animator of this tragic masterpiece. This performance was more of a Iago than an Otello. Rather than the powerful, rich voice of Jonas Kaufmann dominating the sound, as many had anticipated, the performance put Iago and Desdemona on centre stage.

The drama is cast almost entirely in hard lighting, influenced by Moorish architecture, yet reminiscent of Shoreditch’s ‘M’ hotel. Its starkness matches the black-and-white costume, and particularly suits the thundering arrival of the victorious battleship. But the monochrome feels wearing during the colourful drinking song and early tender moments between Otello and Desdemona. The set also creates some sightline issues while Otello watches over Cassio and Iago. The attempt to fix this problem with shadows is as ingenious as it is tacky.

The vibrancy and clarity of Maria Agresta’s voice perfectly captured the combination of innocence and sensuality that the role of Desdemona requires, while the dark and commanding tone of Marco Vratogna, now a veteran in the role of Iago, successfully appeared to subdue Otello.

As Otello, Kaufmann (perhaps appropriately) was smothered by Iago and the force of the Orchestra, expertly channelled by Antonio Pappano. Only occasional glimmers of Kaufmann in his higher register had the energy for which this great tenor is renowned.

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