Originally launched by star tenor Jonas Kaufmann, Keith Warner’s 2017 production returns, this time with 65-year-old American Gregory Kunde in the title role. He gives a remarkable performance, his honed, powerful and wide-ranging instrument well up to the notorious demands of what is usually reckoned the most challenging tenor role in the entire Italian repertoire.
Dramatically he is imposing, too, though taken as a whole Warner’s staging rarely grips as it needs to. Many will also be disappointed that no singer of colour has yet appeared in this iconic role at this address.
Kunde’s co-protagonists are of an equally high standard. Once again Ermonela Jaho gives her emotional all as Desdemona, even if at times she is taken right to her vocal limits by the part.
With his dark-grained, vocally centred Iago – a fine character study delivered with vigour and point – Carlos Alvarez offers what is arguably the most complete of the three central performances. Around them, the secondary roles are expertly realised, with Freddie De Tommaso’s forthright Cassio and Catherine Carby’s concerned Emilia both memorable.
The evening’s weakness lies in a production that seems to have little to say about the piece itself. With semi-abstract, quasi-modernist sets ill-matched to period costumes, the visuals are lacklustre: not enough of the drama strikes home with the power so vividly realised in Verdi’s nakedly dramatic score.
Royal Opera music director Antonio Pappano conducts and is in his element, drawing strong work from the chorus and orchestra, and maintaining dynamism alternating with grandeur and intimacy throughout a musically impressive evening.