Sweden Verdi Otello at Opera på Skäret. Soloists, Opera på Skäret’s Chorus and Orchestra, Marcello Mottadelli, (conductor). Kopparberg, 26.7.2014 (Premiere I) (GF)
Otello, Michal Lehotsky
Iago, Ole Jörgen Kristiansen
Desdemona, Charlotta Larsson
Cassio, Alex Tsilogiannis
Emilia, Anna-Kajsa Holmberg
Montano/A herald,Calle Lindén
Direction: William Relton
Stage design and costumes: Cordelia Chisholm
Mask design and wigs: Robin Karlsson
Lighting design: Simon Corder
Mounting Verdi’s masterpiece Otello is a hazardous task for any opera house and for Opera på Skäret, with their after all limited technical resources, it is a brave venture indeed. Having witnessed the premiere on a hot Saturday afternoon it is a pleasure to report that director William Relton and his crew manœuvred their vessel safely through threatening pitfalls into harbour with glorious results.
What we encounter is a barren environment devoid of all gewgaws. A simple circular platform fills the stage throughout the four acts, a solitary leafless tree in a corner, costumes are present day, apart from Desdemona, Emilia and Roderigo everybody wears uniforms. The storm that rages at the opening is illustrated through a bare lamp swaying back and forth across the stage. In other words it’s a peeled-off production concentrating on the human conflicts, making the drama even more tangible and urgent. As William Relton reminds us in the programme book Othello stands out from the other Shakespearean tragedies by dealing with a universal theme, which everyone can identify with: jealousy – whereas in the other tragedies “the central characters suffer from intellectually disputed lack of self-reliance, the exquisite pain to relinquish the crown for love, the madness that is the result of relinquishing power …”. Relton zooms in the individuals the same way that a chamber play does. Don’t misread me now. The monumentality of the work is in no way reduced, the crowd’s horror while watching Otello’s ship trying to reach the harbour, the drinking scene, the arrival of the ambassador from Venice make the same impact as usual – and considering the relatively small orchestral and choral forces available at Skäret this is in itself remarkable. The chorus is certainly impressive and the effect is heightened when they line up on the barrier that separates the pit from the audience. The onlookers on the foremost rows literally have the chorus in their laps.
Let me also say at once that Maestro Mottadelli has worked wonders with the orchestra: powerful brass, silken strings – the orchestral music before Ave Maria is truly stunning – and elsewhere he charges the music with such intensity and punch that Toscanini probably applauded in his Heaven. Rather brisk tempos, Toscanini-like, in the drinking scene for instance, which swings furiously. But the intensity is just as taut in the more intimate scenes and Iago’s scheming becomes even more intimidating through his restraint and genial innocence – a true wolf in sheep’s clothing. The gradual breaking down of Otello’s self-confidence is so satanically depicted – until he, before the public in the third act, denounces Desdemona. The tension is maintained throughout the performance and not even the soft postlude to Ave Maria followed by a general pause tempts the audience to a round of applause.
And this would have been well deserved, since Charlotta Larsson sings it so beautifully and touching. She was a gorgeous Aida and splendid Giorgetta in Il tabarro some years ago but her Desdemona surpasses both those impersonations. This Desdemona is gentle, warm and caring, the emblem of an angel. Her hot-tempered husband – no Moor make-up here! – the Slovak tenor Michal Lehotsky has the required stamina for the role as well as the steel in his voice to make the dramatic outbursts ride the orchestra, but he has a gentler side too, and though I wish he would scale down more in the big love duet in act I, he is at his most nuanced and expressive in Niun mi tema, which is the natural climax in this sad tale. Norwegian baritone Ole Jörgen Kristiansen is also an old acquaintance, having been both Amonasro and Rigoletto at Skäret. His Iago is another crowning glory and his two famous solos, the Credo – without the nasty laughter at the end, making it even more frightening – and the softly insinuating Era la notte, are masterly psychological portraits.
The fourth key character, Cassio, is elegantly played by Greek tenor Alex Tsilogiannis, a splendid actor (he is even credited in the programme as fight instructor) and his lean bright voice is most attractive. The sonorous Lithuanian bass Tadas Girininkas makes much of little as Lodovico. Good comprimarios also in Anna-Kajsa Holmberg’s Emilia, Karl Rombo’s pathetic Roderigo and Kalle Lindén’s Montano.
There is a second team of principal actors that I haven’t seen but from what I have seen and heard of the premiere team I can unhesitatingly declare that this Otello is the strongest production at Skäret so far.