The end of season finds the Royal Opera on remarkable form in Verdi’s Shakespearean masterpiece. From the moment Antonio Pappano launches the overwhelming storm, you know you’re in for a special evening - and so it proves.
Aleksandrs Antonenko (Otello) and Anja Harteros (Desdemona) in Otello at the Royal Opera House, London Photo: Tristram Kenton
The precision and sweep of the orchestral playing and choral singing are outstanding. One example must suffice - there’s a notoriously perilous solo passage for the double basses on Otello’s entrance in the last act, which is almost always disastrously tuned - here, for once, it is impeccably played.
The cast is strong throughout and would be hard to equal today. Latvian tenor Aleksandrs Antonenko has made Verdi’s Moor - a role that plenty of big-voiced tenors shy away from - his own, and triumphs here in a reading that makes light of its fabled difficulties. A rare but welcome visitor to Covent Garden, Anja Harteros sings Desdemona with a lyric soprano tone that is without flaw - again, there is probably no-one currently able to touch her performance. Lucio Gallo’s Iago is more of a known quantity, but his varied, iron-tongued vocalism and subtle and complex acting make his a performance for the annals.
Strong support comes from Hanna Hipp’s concerned Emilia, Brindley Sherratt’s noble Lodovico and Ji Hyun Kim’s pliant Roderigo.
Elijah Moshinsky’s 1987 staging, however, looks its age, even if its handsome Veronese-like stage pictures are beautifully created and the whole show, from a dramatic point of view, feels more than adequately freshened up (by the director himself). But it’s the evening’s musical values that prove memorable and, indeed, make this a world class realisation.