Othello, by Birmingham Opera Company,
at Argyle Works, Great Barr Street
Entering the Argyle Works for Birmingham Opera Company’s production of Verdi’s Othello we removed our shoes and entered a vast, hangar-like space, covered wall-to-wall in plush red carpet – like a ceremonial reception hall, or perhaps the prayer room of a mosque.
References to Islam underlined the whole of Graham Vick’s production. Ronald Samm’s Othello prayed to Allah in Act Three; troublingly, he appeared in salwar kameez and skull-cap to strangle a veiled Desdemona (Stephanie Corley) at the opera’s close.
It didn’t quite add up, though if Vick’s aim was to provoke questions rather than answer them, he succeeded.
What did add up was the dramatic experience.
Samm was a forceful Othello, Corley sang with heartbreaking sweetness. But Iago nearly stole the show, Keel Watson on volcanic form in what must surely be his finest performance to date for BOC.
Luminous orchestral playing under Stephen Barlow and the utterly committed community chorus left the pulse racing in Vick’s trademark crowd scenes – easily the most convincing justification for his choice of venue.
Whatever its flaws, Othello, like any BOC production, is unforgettable drama: immersive, thought-provoking and emotionally wrenching.
Until Dec 19. For details call 08444 77 1000 or visit www.birminghamopera.org.uk