Thursday, April 28, 2011

Otello in Dresden

Otello, April 21 2011, Semperoper Dresden 

Musical Director ..... Jacques Delacôte
Staging ..... Vera Nemirova

Otello ..... Carl Tanner
Desdemona ..... Serena Farnocchia
Iago ..... Gerard Quinn
Cassio ..... Wookyung Kim
Rodrigo ..... Orlando Niz
Lodovico ..... Tilmann Rönnebeck
Montano ..... Tomislav Lucic
Emilia ..... Sofi Lorentzen

Saxon State Opera Choir, Children's Choir of the Saxon State Opera Choir
Staatskapelle Dresden

Last year at the Deutsche Oper I was able to see an excellent new production of this opera, staged by Andreas Kriegenburg and wonderfully sung by Anja Harteros, Jose Cura, and Zeljko Lucic. Even if this production I saw the other night at Semperoper is not matching the same quality level overall, it certainly remains one of the best on the market today.

After this show, I think I finally understood the source of my "déjà vu" feeling that constantly bugged me after the shows produced by Vera Nemirova. I believe she is a female equivalent to Laurent Pelly. She too tends to strip away the heavy stuff from the known operas and make them superficially lighter but by keeping the essence of the drama intact. Good side of this style in this opera by Verdi is that it removes most of the pathos, and the drama gains in credibility. A less good side is that it sometimes goes for too much and leans dangerously towards trivial [Otello actually going to fridge to cool down is trivialization that doesn't help any aspect of the show, in my opinion]  The means by which both Pelly and Nemirova achieve their goal is a rich stage dynamics and lively interactions among protagonists.

So what about this Otello? Vera Nemirova decided to place the action in a vacation resort somewhere on Cyprus -- I guess it is Cyprus (if she respected the libretto), although the tropical elements (sand beaches, high thin palm trees...) can be associated with any tropical vacation resort, including the coasts of India [Desdemona wearing sari was a source of my doubts/confusion.]

After a heavy storm that had hit the island, Otello, Iago and military friends came to the holiday resort to make the tourists feel safe and protected from the outside world. That helps them progressively return to their holiday mood. That idea of spoiled Western tourists enjoying the beaches of Cyprus is obviously a great departure from the libretto and it actually works very well, and that is the only major departure from the libretto. The rest is pretty narrative, with subtly crafted stage action. As I just said above: it's like Pelly... Even the sets in Act-3 look very similar to what we could see in Pelly's Ariadne auf Naxos.

Carl Tanner and Serena Farnocchia

Concerning the dramatic action I liked the way Nemirova emphasized the detail with Desdemona's handkerchief. The moment when that light silky white handkerchief becomes an obsession to Otello, he starts seeing it everywhere: there are hundreds of such handkerchiefs that start falling from above the stage and cover the space around him. Otello in this production is not black. He will smear the black tar over his face in the later stages when he becomes ravaged by jealousy and determined to kill Desdemona. I tried to figure out the reason for that choice but couldn't come up with any plausible explanation (after rejecting the racist innuendo.) Was it to emphasize his more conservative, less tolerant, Moorish side? 

Concerning the singers I thought the cast was solid and homogeneous. The most brilliant was Wookyung Kim whose beautifully round and alerting voice made a brilliantly sung Cassio.  Carl Tanner has what it takes to sing Otello -- arguably the most difficult verdian role. His voice is voluminous enough to fill up a large auditorium of the Semperoper and he sustained singing with the same intensity the entire evening that resulted in a very convincing portrayal of the character. Serena Farnocchia is maybe not Anja Harteros but her voice is good for the role too, although in the last part of her Ave Maria she kinda lost focus or got tired. It was overall a solid performance though. Gerard Quinn did a very good job as Iago.

Staatskapelle Dresden is one of the world top orchestra and in this opera --that I believe is musically the most interesting of all Verdi's operas (OK, Falstaff is great too!)-- they produced some memorable moments. A very careful conducting by maestro Jacques Delacôte was particularly praised by the full house.

Wookyung Kim, Gerard Quinn, Carl Tanner, Serena Farnocchia, Jacques Delacôte

Wookyung Kim

Beautiful building of Semperoper

Above photos are mine, and the production photos below are ©Semperoper:

After the storm...

Iago and Otello

Otello and Desdemona...

Otello is closing the doors of a large fridge where he goes to cool down (sic!)

Otello strangles Desdemona with Iago in the background
A video clip:

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the interesting description of what sounds like a very interesting production!