Verdi’s Otello Opens the Teatro Real 2016-2017 Season

SpainSpain Verdi: Otello, Soloists, Orchestra and Chorus of Teatro Real / Renato Palumbo (conductor), Teatro Real, Madrid, 24 & 25.9.2016. (JMI)

Teatro Real’s Otello © Javier del Real

Otello – Gregory Kunde/Alfred Kim
Desdemona – Ermonela Jaho/Lianna Haroutounian
Iago – George Petean/Ángel Ódena
Cassio – Alexey Dolgov/Xavier Moreno
Ludovico – Fernando Ra
Emilia – Gemma Coma-Alabert
Roderigo – Vicenç Esteve
Montano/Herald – Isaac Galán
Director – David Alden
Sets and Costumes – Jon Morrell
Lighting – Adam Silverman

Teatro Real has inaugurated their opera season with this Verdi masterpiece. I found it somewhat disappointing overall, and the staging in particular. Contrary to the policy followed by other leading European houses, Teatro Real chose to begin the season with a rather low-cost production.

The staging by American director David Alden premiered two years ago at the English National Opera (review) and later travelled to Stockholm. It’s one of the poorest I can recall from Mr. Alden and holds little interest. There is a single set for the four acts, with walls on the sides and a gate at the back that opens to show some painted hills in Act II and a room for the scene of the Venetian ambassador’s arrival. There is no bedroom for Desdemona, who perhaps likes sleeping on the floor. This sort of minimalist production can help deepen the sense of drama in an opera, but that wasn’t the case here. Otello’s death is quite absurd: he kills himself while singing ‘un baccio, ancora un baccio’ about 10 meters away from Desdemona’s body. I found the oath made by Otello and Iago at the end of Act II almost comical, as if they were Siegfried and Hagen. The children’s tribute to Desdemona in Act II is most peculiar: the children’s chorus sings from off stage and the flowers are delivered by soldiers.

Apparently, Mr. Alden considers Iago to be the main protagonist: he is always on stage, even during Otello’s death although the libretto tells us that he flees. The action seems to take place in the early twentieth century in a Mediterranean country, and for once Otello’s face is not painted black.

Renato Palumbo is an effective conductor and very familiar with Verdi operas. His conducting was quite good in Act IV but short of inspiration in Act I, a little too loud in Act II and with very slow tempi in the ensemble that ends Act III. Overall, his reading was more convincing with the second cast. There were excellent performances by both the Teatro Real orchestra and chorus.

Gregory Kunde has practically become the reference Otello after his debut four years ago in the role in La Fenice, and we’ve had the opportunity to see him as Otello on several occasions in Spain (Valencia, Seville and Peralada). Kunde does not have the dramatic voice identified with Otello, but he sings the part without the vociferous sounds of some of his colleagues. His voice came up short in the first two acts, especially in the ‘Esultate’, but was outstanding in ‘Dio mi potevi scagliar’ and particularly moving in the last act.

Otello in the second cast was Korean tenor Alfred Kim. He has appeared in Spain several times, but this was his debut at the Teatro Real. His voice is attractive although not that of a true dramatic tenor, but he had no problems at the top of the range and never avoided the score’s difficulties. There is, however, a shortage of colour in his singing which became somewhat monotonous, especially in the second half of the opera.

Desdemona was supposed to have been sung by Bulgarian soprano Krassimira Stoyanova, but she cancelled and was replaced by Ermonela Jaho, who had been scheduled for the second cast. Ms. Jaho’s performance was convincing and she sang with both gusto and delicacy. The dark timbre of her voice is well suited to the character and she made an excellent, if not truly exceptional, Desdemona.

Armenian soprano Lianna Haroutounian joined the second cast as Desdemona. Her voice is attractive in the middle, and she is at her best when her high notes open up. She did nicely, but I preferred Ermonela Jaho in the part. Ms. Haroutounian can be more powerful, but her singing is less nuanced and her piani do not have the quality of Ms. Jaho’s.

Romanian baritone George Petean was an appropriate Iago, as far as his voice goes. But this evil character demands many other qualities besides voice, and here Mr. Petean was not so convincing. There were some excesses in the Credo, and I missed more intention at Cassio’s dream.

Catalan baritone Angel Ódena was Iago in the second cast, a role in which he debuted last year in Seville. There he fell short, but he has improved remarkably and sang with much more intention than on the previous occasion.

Alexey Dolgov was convincing in the part of Cassio, better than last year in Barcelona in the same role, while Xavier Moreno was correct in the second cast. Gemma Coma-Alabert as Emilia was also good, and Fernando Radó was a sonorous Ludovico. There were solid contributions from Isaac Galan (Montano and Herald) and Vicenç Esteve (Roderigo).

José M. Irurzun

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