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Opera: Verdi's Otello

Royal Opera House, London WC2

    Aleksandrs Antonenko as Otello and Anja Harteros as Desdemona
    Aleksandrs Antonenko as Otello and Anja Harteros as Desdemona

    I have been spoilt by Carlos Kleiber. Nearly two decades ago, I heard him conduct Verdi’s Otello at the Royal Opera House and I know that, as long as I live, I will never hear anything that compares. The opening storm he conjured up (and yes, it was magic), when he made the orchestra sound as if the earth was opening up, was something beyond music.

    I have since seen many wonderful Otellos. But none could ever come close for sheer visceral impact. Every note mattered.

    When I say that this latest revival of Elijah Moshinsky’s production does not live up to that but is nonetheless a sensationally good, five-star performance, then it is the opposite of damning with faint praise.

    Even to be mentioned in the same review as Kleiber’s Otello shows just how good it is.
    In the pit, Sir Antonio Pappano unleashes a thrilling, dramatically taut account of the score — and masterminds a gripping drama. Nothing is wasted, with the three principals fully inhabiting their roles. Latvian tenor Aleksandrs Antonenko shows that there is life beyond Domingo. The vocal demands hold no fears and his is as fine a dramatic performance as I have seen this year. His confrontation with Desdemona in front of the Venetian ambassador was hair-on-the-back-of-the-neck thrilling.

    Anja Harteros has cancelled more than she has sung recently, but she is worth the frustrations. This was a Desdemona at once mystified, angry, frightened, sweetly demure — and gloriously sung. With Lucio Gallo as a charismatic Iago, the casting is flawless. I cannot recommend this too highly.

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