Cura’s Otello Grips

ArgentinaArgentina Verdi, Otello: Soloists, Chorus and Orchestra of Teatro Colón. Conductor: Massimo Zanetti / Carlos Vieu. Teatro Colón, Buenos Aires. 18.7.2013. (JSJ)

Director/sets: José Cura
Costumes: Fabio Fernando Ruiz
Lighting: Roberto Traferri
Chorus: Miguel Martínez
Children’s Chorus: César Bustamante

Otello: José Cura
Desdémona: Carmen Giannattasio
Iago: Carlos Álvarez / Fabián Veloz
Cassio: Enrique Folger
Lodovico: Carlos Esquivel / Mario De Salvo
Emilia: Guadalupe Barrientos
Roderigo: Fernando Chalabe
Montano: Mario De Salvo / Christian Peregrino
Herald: Fernando Grassi / Sebastiano De Filippi

In this the 200th anniversary of Verdi’s birth, this new production of Otello at the Teatro Colón has been much anticipated – not only because of the position of the work in Verdi’s oeuvre but also because of the presence of José Cura, both in the title role and as producer and scenographer.

Cura has become closely associated with Otello and he estimates to have sung the role more than 200 times during the past 16 years. However, this, as far as I can ascertain, is his first production of the work, and despite his obvious familiarity with it the basis of his approach, as he outlines in the program notes, is to “play with intuition and fantasy.”

The result is a passionate and gripping portrayal, with Iago omnipresent as the architect of events, and if not in the action then overseeing it from the side and with a click of the fingers moving it on, Otello, with his emotions largely in check but with moments of the deepest tenderness towards Desdemona contrasted with extreme outbursts, and Desdemona the loving wife becoming almost child-like as she moves inexorably towards what she knows is her fate – her ‘Ave Maria’ sitting hunched on the ground at the foot of her bed full of pathos.

The scenery was cleverly constructed on the revolving stage with three (unequal) elements – the largest the front of the castle, leading to an interior room and in turn to Desdemona’s bedroom, enabling easy flow from one to another as well as in rotation showing snapshots of behind the scenes happenings.

The production was dedicated to the late Roberto Oswald, with the curtain opening to the tolling of eight bells for his eight decades. Cura associates Otello with the battle of Lepanto, from whence he may even be arriving back at the start of the work, and in the only unconvincing aspect of the production “introduces” the opera with a short spoken passage about the battle in the words of Don Quixote (in a recording by Carlos Álvarez).

Cura is tall with a commanding presence, as befits the role, and vocally well portrayed the varying emotions of Otello, albeit somewhat unevenly, in particular in the first act. Carlos Álvarez, a noted Iago, all in black reflecting his dark influence, gave a fine and dramatic performance. Carmen Giannattasio also well filled the role of Desdemona, singing with strength and clarity.

Enrique Folger stood out with his Cassio and especially did the young Guadalupe Barrientos’ Emilia, with which Iago almost met his match.

Massimo Zanetti is an experienced Otello conductor and this showed, and the chorus and childrens’ chorus were both on form.

The applause at the end was well deserved, with Cura getting on stage as many as possible of those who had been involved in the production alongside the cast and chorus.

Jonathan Spencer Jones