Otello, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, September 2014Posted on 14 September 2014
After the end of a terrific performance, director David Alden was presented with two gifts to celebrate the 30th anniversary of his work with the ENO, whom he extolled as his favourite opera company in the world. That they work so well together is amply illustrated in this production whose huge enclosing set allows the stage movement, lighting and music to express the bleak eloquence of Shakespeare’s most operatic of plays.
With a huge crash of orchestral sound in the first bars we were thrown into a world of anxiety where the only steadiness was the darkness exuded by Iago. This production, centred on his sorcery, shows him manipulating Roderigo like a puppet early on, and Jonathan Summers’ excellent vocal and theatrical portrayal combined the wily plausibility of Scottish First Minister Salmond with the deceptively calculating hubris of Russia’s Putin. If the two combined in real life there would be dead Scots on the streets of London, just to enrage voters north of the border, but in opera this is just the sort of thing that happens, and after the off-stage and on-stage fight, murder and suicide, the figures standing by the cavernous walls slowly fade away … leaving Iago sitting alone.
In the meantime Stuart Skelton gave us a superb Otello, vocally secure, filled with emotional anxiety, and in Act III as he metaphorically tore through the darkness towards his own destruction as waves of orchestral sound swelled beneath him. The combination of Edward Gardner’s musical direction and Stuart Skelton’s well-nuanced vocal power would be a bonus for any opera house in the world, and is not to be missed at the ENO where Otello is very well complemented by Leah Crocetto’s lovely Desdemona, full of naïve happiness, yet with huge power when she realises her very life is at stake.
Fine portrayals of Cassio by Allan Clayton, Roderigo by Peter Van Hulle, and a very strongly voice Venetian ambassador by Barnaby Rea. As Iago’s wife Emilia, Pamela Helen Stephen was riveting in her smartly dull brown early twentieth century costume and glasses. Her eyes said it all as she turned them towards her husband in the Act II scene before the fall of the handkerchief, and in the final moments the strength in her voice finally abandoned the demure persona that hitherto hid her emotions.
Designs by Jon Morrell are superbly lit by Adam Silverman, with admirable use of silhouettes on the walls, yet warmth and more intimate darkness too. The power of the lighting plus movement direction by Maxine Braham helps give this production an arresting visual impact. Wonderful.
Performances continue on various dates until October 17 — for details click here.