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Otello starring Jonas Kaufmann at the Royal Opera House review – ‘real dramatic sweep’

Jonas Kaufmann and Marco Vratogna in Verdi's Otello at the Royal Opera House, London. Photo: Tristram Kenton

When the world’s most famous tenor takes on for the first time the mighty challenge of the title role of Verdi’s Otello, it’s an important step for his innumerable fans. Though he’s perhaps not an ideal exponent of the part, Jonas Kaufmann is an imaginative singer and a highly capable actor. Thought-through and sung with skill, his first Otello is a more than respectable achievement, and one that will surely develop further.

Some will be disappointed that the Royal Opera has not yet felt able to cast a black singer in the role – though it’s fair to point out that even singers who specialise in the bigger Verdi repertoire often turn Otello down as unmanageable. There are very few tenors who will attempt it, and vocally Kaufmann is entirely credible in the part.

His colleagues are worthwhile, too, with Maria Agresta’s intensely lyrical Desdemona something more: this is quite simply a performance of outstanding vocal beauty and dramatic poise.

Marco Vratogna’s Iago is more roughly handled, his interpretation solid though scarcely subtle. Frederic Antoun’s Cassio is delivered with elegance and Thomas Atkins brings Roderigo’s foolishness into sharp focus.

Boris Kudlicka’s dark sets are a blend of realism and abstraction, while Keith Warner’s broadly traditional new staging is clear-sighted if not notable for intensity.

Where the evening scores most highly is on the musical side, with Antonio Pappano once again showing his impeccable command of Verdian style in a reading with real dramatic sweep. Orchestral playing is strong on detail and flawless in ensemble, while the choral attack under the company’s new chorus director William Spaulding is regularly thrilling.

Jonas Kaufmann’s Otello is promising but the evening’s star is conductor Antonio Pappano


Royal Opera House
June 21, 2017
July 15, 2017
Press night
June 21, 2017
Arrigo Boito, after Shakespeare
Giuseppe Verdi
Keith Warner
Antonio Pappano
Boris Kudlicka
Bruno Poet
Kaspar Glarner
Stefanie Cliffe (company manager), Les Bone (head of lighting), Mark Dakin (technical director), Michael Barry (movement)
Stage manager
Simon Catchpole
Production manager
Susan Usher
Cast includes
Jonas Kaufmann, Maria Agresta, Marco Vratogna, Frederic Antoun, Thomas Atkins, Kai Ruutel, Simon Shibambu
Peter Mario Katona
Royal Opera
Running time
3hrs 10mins