Otello: Teatro Verdi di Pisa, 15th February 2013

E-mail Print PDF

Giuseppe http://img33.imageshack.us/img33/6886/pisaotello3.jpgVerdi’s Otello is one of those operas bound to give nightmares to general managers of major opera companies whenever they decide to present it.  The most obvious hurdle is to find a protagonist able to survive one of the most arduous roles in the entire tenor repertoire; given the complexity of the score, it is also an opera that has always attracted the greatest conductors, even those of Germanic extraction who normally keep at arm’s length from most of the Verdi canon, if not almost the entirety of the Italian repertoire. Finally, considering its authoritative Shakespearean roots (as well as Boito’s crafty libretto, which many a scholar considers a dramaturgical improvement over its source), Otello is a huge test even for the most consummate production team. With such a premise it is no wonder that despite its popularity this opera does not often appear in the programmes of regional opera companies: one more reason to applaud the Teatro Verdi of Pisa for its decision to accept the challenge and, all things considered, to come out of it with its head held high.

The production was entrusted to Enrico Stinchelli, a name that is immensely famous in the Italian operatic world, especially as a co-host of the longest running show in the history of Italian radio, La barcaccia. In the last several years Stinchelli has also successfully added the activity of stage director to his already multifaceted career. This Otello was a classic example of how to create a good-looking, entertaining and often gripping production even with a relative paucity of funds at one’s disposal. The set was basically limited to a platform (or better several layers of platforms) in the shape of a star, elegantly surrounded by other stage elements suggestive of the Muslim world. The most conspicuous component was the presence of a round screen above the platform, onto which a number of images were projected, creating magical moments, such as the vision of the ship at the mercy of the waves at the beginning of the opera, a true example of how to leave the audience gasping for its realism (and one can understand how the Brothers Lumière’s first viewers could feel when watching the legendary train running towards them) using elementary technological means. Not every projection was so successful: showing a close-up of Cassio having an erotic dream during Iago’s narration was the only misstep: it was not necessary and too reminiscent of Zeffirelli’s similar solution in his Otello film.   Stinchelli did not limit himself to playing with technology, as the interaction among the characters, while keeping within a traditional frame, suggested a meticulous study of their relationships. The elegant costumes and especially Gerald Agius Ordway’s crafty lighting brought a significant contribution to the success of the mise-en-scène.

http://img593.imageshack.us/img593/3006/pisaotello1.jpg

In addition to the visual aspect, the other winning element of the production was the protagonist himself. I had previously heard Antonello Palombi in several other operas, and while always professional, I had always found something questionable in his performances. As Otello, Palombi was excellent. He displayed a dark, rich, opulent instrument that darted to the top with security, maintaining the same tonnage and colour of his middle register. The “Esultate” was vigorous, ringing and electrifying in its impetuosity, and even the acciaccatura on the B 4 he accurately nailed. His characterization of Otello was noble, if not yet truly individualized or, on the very highest level consistently tragic. The stakes are, indeed, higher for Otello than any other tenor role in the Italian repertoire. To say that one wants more authentic intimacy in the love duet, more pain in the voice for “Ora e per sempre addio”, a deeper sense of degradation in “Dio! Mi potevi scagliar”, and greater desolation in the final act, is, in this case, not so much to criticize the singer as to note how revealing a tragedy this is. Palombi’s attempt to follow Verdi’s dynamics was manifest; except in some shouted phrases (for instance he neglected the ppp required by the composer at the beginning of “Dio, mi potevi scagliare”), Palombi displayed a variegated singing, with beautiful mezzevoci and soft floating notes even above the stave. I appreciated other often neglected details such as the perfect execution of the dotted notes denoting sarcasm in phrase “Perdonate se il mio pensiero è fello” in the act III duet with Desdemona. He seems to have grasped what is central to the work: the image of a noble character gradually reduced to a baser instinct.  In a few words, despite some excesses (that perhaps a stricter, more authoritative conductor could have reined in), he gave us a human and grieving Otello, as opposed to the raving maniac of a certain tradition. All in all, a satisfying performance.

Cinzia Forte, a soprano http://img197.imageshack.us/img197/2623/pisaotello4.jpgof some renown in the lyric coloratura repertoire, was making her debut as Desdemona. Her soprano, does not possess the ideal weight for the role; it is too light and its natural barycentre too high for the tessitura of the part. In addition to this, her timbre is somewhat generic and characterized by a fast vibrato that partially spoiled the long legato of so many of Desdemona’s phrases. To her credit, she never artificially forced her voice, not even when confronting the column of sound coming from her partner’s throat.  Dramatically, she had good intentions, and the sense of vulnerability present in her voice was her best asset: one could sense actual tears in her uttering “Guarda le prime lagrime”, and her long scene in Act IV was deeply moving and heartfelt.  Yet, vocally this role does not seem like a match made in heaven for her.

Carlo Guelfi spent the first two acts, which are the busiest for the role of Iago, virtually speaking, with a parched timbre and no trace of overtones. During the intermission his indisposition was announced. Perhaps his ill health may have contributed to his fatigued top, but it is undeniable that such dryness of timbre has unfortunately characterized his performances for several years.

http://img69.imageshack.us/img69/6333/pisaotello2.jpg

Valeria Sepe made the most of her few chances to shine as Emilia (her “Otello ha ucciso Desdemona” was enough to make one wish to hear her in a bigger assigment), while Cristiano Olivieri did not convince as Cassio, a part that should be cast with a full lyric tenor with a beautiful timbre. Angelo Fiore (Roderigo), Emanuele Cordaro (Lodovico), Juan José Navarro (Montano) and Andrea Paolucci (un araldo) fulfilled their supporting duties with honour.

Conductor Claudio Maria Micheli seemed more focused in keeping together soloists, orchestra and chorus (the latter being not perfectly synchronized with the pit on a few occasions) than in displaying his personal conception of the opera. Although he showed energy at the obvious points, and highlighted some details that often pass unnoticed (such as the acciaccaturas in the orchestra under Desdemona’s “ Scendean gli augelli a vol dai rami cupi”), so much of the opera lacked structural clarity and rhythmic detail.

All things considered, the Teatro Verdi can claim to have scored a goal by virtue of a production worthy of being revived for other companies and a tenor deserving to be heard in this role in the major international opera houses.

4_stars

Nicola Lischi

Opera Britannia

Photographs © Massimo D'Amato, Firenze

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 19 February 2013 23:58 )  

Recent Reviews

Puccini: Tosca

Renée Fleming, our hostess with the mostest at the Metropolitan Opera’s latest cinema relay of Tosca a few weeks ago, urged us – as ever – to experience opera first-hand and to ‘come visit the Met’ or to support your local opera company. The Opera Britannia excursions budget wouldn’t get you as far as York, let alone New York, so my local company it was and performing the same opera too. Tosca is very much the safe, financial bolster to Welsh National Opera’s Tudor trilogy in its autumn season – a crowd-pleaser of a production excavated from 1992, but which seemed even older.


 

Humperdinck: Hänsel und Gretel

And so to Milton Keynes, pursued by a perishing wind fit to crack the famous concrete cows. The Milton Keynes Theatre, as a venue, is one of the jewels in the ATG crown, big enough to house almost any touring product, with spacious and well-designed auditorium and foyers. Unfortunately it is marooned in one of those soulless retail areas surrounded by a sea of mediocre chain outlets which offer the same tat or that which passes for food in a thousand other identical areas the world over. Whether it was position or the icy blasts which accounted for the poorly populated house is hard to say.


 

Mozart: The Magic Flute

For all the risk-taking in the operatic world, productions which are guaranteed bums-on-seats bankers are like Nibelung gold. To scrap not one but two such productions is a brave move for English National Opera this season. We shall see what Christopher Alden inflicts on Rigoletto in the spring, replacing Jonathan Miller’s famous Little Italy staging. Meanwhile, Nicholas Hytner’s much loved production of The Magic Flute has finally been laid to rest (after a few ‘absolutely your last chance to see’ revivals), replaced with this new one by Simon McBurney and Complicite.


 

Shostakovich: The Nose

Described at the time as “an anarchist’s hand grenade,” The Nosewas not well received and soon disappeared from view, although Malko, one of Shostakovich’s teachers at the Conservatoire, recognised the quality of the score. It was composed in 1927-28 and given a concert performance, against Shostakovich’s better judgment, in 1929: “The Nose loses all meaning if it is seen just as a musical composition. For the music springs only from the action...It is clear to me that a concert performance of The Nose will destroy it."


 

News

ENO goes widescreen

After resisting the prevailing tide for opera houses beaming their wares to a worldwide cinema audience, English National Opera has seen the light. From 2014, selected productions will be screened at 300 cinemas around the UK and beyond, starting with its revival of David Alden’s production of Peter Grimes, starring Stuart Skelton. A new production, by Terry Gilliam, of Berlioz’s Benvenuto Cellini will also be relayed. Gilliam’s earlier Berlioz adventure, The Damnation of Faust, was broadcast on television.


 

 

Poetry Corner

Biography: Mary Robertson is an Emeritus Professor in Neuropsychiatry at University College London and visiting Professor at St George’s Hospital Medical School, London. Aside from being an opera devotee, Mary is a published poet and photographer.

(New poems added: 04/08/2010)

more >>

 

 


News updates

Subscribe to Opera Britannia to receive all the latest news and latest reviews

Signup >>

Around the Houses

Dmitri Platanias will sing the title role when the Royal Opera revives its new production of Nabucco. Mariusz Kwiecien will be joined by Saimir Pirgu in Steffen Aarfing's production of Szymanowski's King Roger at Covent Garden in 2015. The Royal Opera will stage Andrea Chenier in 2014/15 with Jonas Kaufmann, Eva-Maria Westbroek and Željko Lucic.

Anna Netrebko is due to sing the role of Lady Macbeth for a single performance at the Bavarian State Opera in June 2014.

Maria Agresta will sing Lucrezia in Verdi's I due Foscari in the 2014-15 season at Covent Garden. Placido Domingo does the Doge double, adding the baritone role of Francesca Foscari to his Simon Boccanegra.

Corinne Winters, fresh from her triumph as Violetta in ENO's production of La traviata, is to return to the Coliseum next season as Teresa in Berlioz's Benvenuto CelliniMichael Spyres sings the title role in a production which sees the return ofTerry Gilliam to the director's seat, after his Damnation of Faust debut.

. Read More>>

"Around the Houses" concentrates on providing the latest news on future plans for opera companies around the globe, artists schedules, cancellations and interesting snippets of information. We will try and avoid unsubstantiated gossip wherever possible, but all of our sources will remain completely confidential.  If you would like to advise us about potential news for this section, then please feel free to email us at info@opera-britannia.com.

Coming Soon

Reviews to be published shortly:



 


 


CD Reviews

Vivaldi: Catone in Utica (Naive)

Althoughhttp://img197.imageshack.us/img197/8908/gkdw.JPG he claimed to have composed around ninety operas, there cannot be many left in the archives of the Biblioteca Nazionale in Turin for Naïve to record in its ongoing Vivaldi Edition if you discount pasticcios, reworkings and incomplete works. Their latest offering, the fourteenth opera in the series, falls into the latter category, for only Acts II and III of Catone in Utica have survived. The opera was written to celebrate the culmination of his third and final season at Verona’s Teatro dell’Accademia Filarmonica – a profitable success for the composer. Premiered in 1737, it is unknown whether Act I was even written by Vivaldi himself, or whether music by other composers was employed.

Read more>>


Recital Reviews

Anne Sofie von Otter: Alumni Series

Milton Court, 23rd November 2013

When this http://img14.imageshack.us/img14/7950/npze.jpgrecital was first drawn to my attention, such is my regard for the Swedish mezzo that I immediately withdrew from reviewing Albert Herring some two hundred yards down the road in the Barbican, and enthusiastically opted for what I thought was an evening of French chansons and mélodies. What a prospect! Anne Sofie von Otter let loose on Chausson and Debussy, Fauré and Poulenc, perhaps some Gounod and Bizet, with maybe a little Délibes and/or Satie by way of let-your-hair-down encore material. All with her long-term musical accompanist Bengt Forsberg summoning up the necessary style. Rapture guaranteed, for which I arrived fully prepared.

Read more>>


DVD Reviews

Donizetti: Lucrezia Borgia (EuroArts)

Scholars now http://img543.imageshack.us/img543/5228/vu6o.jpgcast doubt on Lucrezia Borgia’s credentials as mass poisoner, but Donizetti’s operatic treatment on her historical character would have us believe she spiked drinks with cantarella and laced dishes with deadly nightshade like nobody’s business. Lucrezia, here on her fourth marriage (in reality, her third) to Alfonso d’Este, Duke of Ferrara, is reunited with Gennaro, her long-lost son. Unfortunately, she withholds this vital information from him and from her husband, who suspects her of conducting an affair. It’s as free an interpretation as the lusty television series The Borgias, which never got as far as this in Lucrezia’s marital history, but none the worse for that.

Read more>>


Copyright 09 Opera Britannia
facebook twitter