Shakespeare’s Othello – the classic tragedy of deceit, revenge, love, and jealousy... in essence, all the makings for the spectacle and drama that is opera.
Giuseppe Verdi’s Otello, on a libretto by Arrigo Boito after Shakespeare, charts the downfall of its hero (Franco Farina), the Moorish general and governor of Cyprus, as he is manipulated by Iago (Jonathan Summers) and consumed by jealousy and distrust for his wife, Desdemona (Kate Ladner). Verdi’s Shakespeare adaptations are notable for the way in which vocal drama assumes importance over vocal technique and display. The composition of Otello is exquisite in the subtlety and grace of its melodies, creating a fluid form which adapts to the expressive needs of the narrative.
Opera Australia’s production of Otello was first produced in 2003 under the direction of Harry Kupfer, and revived by Cathy Dadd for this season. The most striking and prominent aspect of this production is the set, designed by Hans Schavernoch. An imposing black and red staircase dominates the stage, cleverly creating a sense of depth which allows for simultaneous action on different levels of the stage between different characters. However, the lack of practicality provided by the design was very obvious, with the performers taking care not to trip and tumble into the orchestra pit!
Unfortunately, the caution required by the performers in navigating the set seemed to be carried over into their dramatic portrayals. Farina, Summers, and Ladner brought the expressive beauty of Verdi’s music to life, but often lost the drama of the action. In particular, the murder and suicide at the climax verged on comedy rather than tragedy – the strangling scene was almost cartoonish.
Despite all this, there were a few precious moments in which Verdi’s ideal of the inseparable nature of music and drama were realised. The love duet between Farina and Ladner in the first act was charming, Summers interpretation of the ‘Credo’, in which Iago revels in his evil, an audience favourite, and Ladner’s performance and interpretation of the ‘Willow Song’ poignant in its tender lightness of touch and simplicity.
However, the highlight of the performance were the large chorus numbers by the Opera Australia Chorus under the direction of Michael Black. The energy and spirit with which the chorus burst onto the stage as the curtains opened was tangible, with members of the chorus quite literally flinging themselves onto the set as they sung of the ferocity of the storm which opens the opera.
Pity that staircase prevented a little bit more of that fearlessness.
Opera Australia presents
Venue: the Arts Centre
22 Nov @ 7:30 pm
25 Nov @ 7:30 pm
28 Nov @ 7:30 pm
3 Dec @ 7:30 pm
6 Dec @ 1:00 pm
11 Dec @ 7:30 pm
Tickets: $84 - $220