Opera Reviews
5 April 2020
Untitled Document

An absorbing family drama

by Moore Parker
Rossini: Otello
Theater an der Wien
19 February 2016

Set in the grandly-dressed rooms (staging, Paolo Fantin) of Desdemona’s father, Emilio Barberigo, Rossini’s Otello here unfolds as a family drama with underlying realms. 

Rodrigo (the heroine’s intended groom, with homoerotic interest in Jago) is usurped by Otello - an Arab Muslim in Western attire (costumes, Carla Teti) who invades and ruptures the wealthy family’s bourgeois world and its foothold.

Director, Damiano Michieletto has created finely-etched characters, pitting not only cultural differences but generational issues and intolerance - and introduced surreal elements which include Francesca da Rimini and her murdered lover Paolo - united in death in a large oil canvas - who came to life (Viktor Saxinger and Fabiola Varga) to provoke the two leads and preempt their eventual fate. 

The cast was without weakness, and led by John Osborn in the title role. It is hard to envisage a finer interpreter for the role in absolutely all respects. His dark-timbred tenor initially appeared a touch sluggish in some of the role’s more agile moments, but quickly warmed to spin finely-accurate fioriture among ringing stratospheric interpolations, while maintaining the ideal dramatic thrust for the part throughout.

His Desdemona, Nino Machaidze, may not bring a Rossini purist’s technique, vibrato, and clarity of tone to the role, but triumphed through a sense of immediacy and communication and a fine sense of phrasing to match her personable stage presence and presentation. All in all she gave a moving and compelling performance.

Valdimir Dmitruk’s Jago was a tour-de-force, albeit dangerously charicatured at times, frenetically bounding in all directions, grimacing like a psychopath and often miming other character’s words. A recent member of the Theater an der Wien’s Young Ensemble, the young Russian’s biting tenor well-suited the character, and he amply  proved his metal among the more mature members of the cast.

Maxim Mironov brought a “classical” Rossini instrument and technique (together with an irritating tendency to hold final notes longer than his colleagues in certain ensembles) to a straight-laced Rodrigo who well-contrasted with his swarthy virile rival in love.

Rossini grants Desdemona’s younger sister, Emilia, a substantial character and some fine music, well-taken here by the multi-faceted Gaia Petrone.

A fine cameo, Nicola Pamio ’s wheelchair-bound Doge (Rodrigo’s unyielding father) was well-complemented by Fulvio Bettini’s elegant Elmiro.

While the staging was an undoubted success, the evening’s true revelation came from the pit. From the overture’s first phrases Antonello Manacorda’s meticulous reading captivated, with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra and the Arnold Schoenberg Choir in pristine form.

Text © Moore Parker
Photo © Werner Kmetitsch
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