It’s lazily received wisdom that Verdi’s late opera Otello ranks among his very greatest.
Yet Welsh National Opera’s current threadbare production, lacklustre both in dramatic and musical values, convinces us otherwise. We are made painfully aware of how rumptitum the big choruses are, especially with the shiftless movement of the singers on the huge Hippodrome stage, how much the more intimate scenes owe to allegedly “lesser” earlier Verdi operas – the wonderful La Traviata comes to mind now and again – and how clunky is Boito’s libretto.
In this co-production with Canadian Opera Company, director Paul Curran seems fixated upon horizontal stage-movements. The great ensemble at the end of Act 3, when the world and his wife suddenly appear in Cyprus, has them all strung across the front of the stage in a visually crass set-piece.
Paul Edwards’ set designs don’t help. Thankfully David Martin Jacques’ lighting designs add an element of appropriate atmosphere, but they battle against inconsistent costuming as well as stagings which seem culled from superficially-researched paintings of the period.
Neither Terence Robertson’s Otello nor late-replacement Mark Holland’s Iago project any convincing stage presence, and Amanda Roocroft, for all her appealing singing, is a gawkily got-up Desdemona. Actually the most convincing characterisation is Claire Bradshaw’s Emilia.