Otello, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, July 2012

We are surely lucky that this revival of Elijah Moshinsky’s wonderful 1987 production — the first since 2005 — was directed by the man himself, and it was hugely effective. The sets with those vast pillars help give the impression that a mere human tragedy is being played out against a world that will carry on as before, even though one man has succeeded in destroying first the happiness and then the lives of others.

Opening scene, all images ROH/ Catherine Ashmore

That man, Iago almost gave his name to this Verdi opera, and Lucio Gallo, who also sang that role in the previous revival, gave a riveting performance. In Act III when Otello reads out the message from the Doge that he is being recalled, and a successor appointed, Gallo showed a smug expectation that he would be the man. It is of course Cassio, but this fine acting helps give meaning to Iago’s evil schemes.

As Otello, Aleksandrs Antonenko made a very fine entrance with his Esultate!, going on to portray a gullible leader, and he and Gallo were a perfect match. After Gallo has brilliantly sung Iago’s Credo in Act II, their duet exhibited his cleverness, and Antonenko’s voice showed how very troubled Otello is. And their later duet gave a gloriously strong ending to that Act.

Otello arrives to quell the fight in Act I

Anja Harteros gave a very fine portrayal of Desdemona, and her soliloquy in Act IV was beautifully done, followed by a heart wrenching Ave Maria. Antonenko, Harteros and Gallo gave this performance immense emotional heft, and were well served by Antonio Poli as a delightful Cassio, Hanna Hipp convincing as Iago’s wife Emilia, and Brindley Sherratt showing fine gravitas as the ambassador from Venice.

Venetian ambassador arrives in Act III

Supporting the entire performance was the hugely sensitive conducting of Antonio Pappano, which allowed the music to swell forth when needed. The chorus were in fine form as usual, and this was a terrific performance in a production whose attention to detail helps Verdi’s interpretation of Shakespeare’s drama to move us enormously. There are lots of clever touches, such as the sudden change of lighting in Act IV after Otello has entered and placed his sword down, the Act III off-stage brass heard from the front corners of the auditorium, and the lightning in Act I that appears both on-stage, and off-stage from the front of the lower slips.

After a seven year absence this revival is not to be missed.

Performances continue until July 24 — for details click here.

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