ALBUM TITLE: Verdi
PERFORMER: Christian Franz, Emily Magee, Valery Alexeev; Berlin State Opera Chorus, Berlin Staatskapelle/Daniel Barenboim; dir. Jürgen Flimm (Berlin Staatsoper, 2001)
CATALOGUE NO: 100 346
The worthiest constituents of this 2001 production of Verdi’s epic tragedy are the chorus and orchestra – both of which are very strong. Within the cast, the Lodovico of Kwangchul Youn is good and the Cassio of Stephan Rügamer pleasant. Barenboim’s conducting also has its positive points, with an ear for detail and sonority, though less command of the score’s architecture.
But looking up at the stage cannot have been inspiring. George Tsypin’s postmodern sets place much of the action in front of a vast glass and steel tower, with a staircase that the principals climb up and down with a clear lack of enthusiasm. Act II is set at a pool party. In Jürgen Flimm’s production, the booklet note suggests, ‘the daily lives of ordinary contemporary people and soldiers are depicted using formalised gestures’. Otello may be about many things, but the daily lives of ordinary contemporary people don’t feature in it.
There’s not an Italianate voice to be heard in the central trio, who give one-dimensional performances that don’t interconnect. Christian Franz is a competent but dull Moor, Valery Alexeev a monochrome and poorly defined Iago and Emily Magee’s Desdemona manages to be nervy and bland at the same time. That anyone can turn this most emotionally shattering of operas into a bore is a remarkable feat. George Hall