Verdi Otello (DVD)
Jonas Kaufmann, Marco Vratogna, Maria Agresta (voices); Royal Opera Chorus & Orchestra/Antonio Pappano; dir. Keith Warner (2017)
Sony DVD: 88985491959; Blu-ray: 88985491969 160 mins (2 discs)
This disc is a record of perhaps the most eagerly awaited of operatic appearances for many years: Jonas Kaufmann making his role debut as Verdi’s Otello. Expectations were high and also anxious, since Kaufmann had been suffering from acute vocal problems. In the event he sang all the scheduled performances, but the reception wasn’t quite as positive as hoped. Partly I think that is the result of his having become, in the last few years, such a superstar that one sees and hears Kaufmann rather than Otello or Don Carlo. Though he is in fine voice, he does not come across as the wounded animal that the greatest Otellos – Jon Vickers, Mario del Monaco – so impressively were. Kaufmann is happiest in the more lyrical passages, which become increasingly rare as the opera proceeds.
It would have helped if Keith Warner’s production had been more alert to the lights and shades in the drama and the marvellous score – excitingly conducted by Antonio Pappano. Mainly the stage is dark and more or less bare, the winged lion of Venice dragged briefly across it to irrelevant effect. I found that Marco Vratogna as Iago, though his voice is not beautiful, was the most powerful presence, while Maria Agresta as Desdemona tended to simper, with arch smiles and poor enunciation, though she rose to the challenge of the enormous ‘Willow Song’ well. Otello’s suicide leads to a Niagara of dark blood, almost to absurd effect. There are some strong performances from the minor characters, and I can imagine Frederic Antoun, here singing Cassio, becoming an Otello himself in due course.