Otello (Opera Queensland)
QPAC, Lyric Theatre
October 24 – November 2
Celebrating the bicentenary of Guiesspi Verdi’s birth, Chief Conductor of the Queensland Symphony Orchestra, Johannes Fritzsch, presents his Opera Queensland theatre debut in the form of a brave new production of “Otello” based on one of Shakespeare’s most intense tragedies.
And bold it is, in terms of its modern-day context and setting, on an aircraft carrier, amidst projected images of warfare, depicting scenes from recent military conflicts. This adds interest, almost to the point of distraction; the sleek lines and harsh lighting of what is essentially a generic military setting may be authentic, but they juxtapose the grittiness of its psychological story.
Verdi is a towering figure in the operatic world. Of his three operatic versions of Shakespeare’s plays, it is often claimed that it is “Otello” that possesses the greatest potential to eclipse its original, such is its power. Indeed, any presentation of this seminal work is therefore going to be challenging, especially as the three leading roles of Othello, Iago and Desdemona are among opera’s most demanding, both vocally and dramatically.
Unfortunately, dramatically, Frank Porretta’s Moor is definitely less. The role of Otello is emotionally intense, as it has to include the ability to portray the Cypriot’s decline from proud, noble military hero to insecure, jealous obsessive at the hands of Iago’s motiveless malignancy. And Porretta’s lack of dramatic depth detracts significantly from the storytelling. As the demure Desdemona, Otello’s unjustly accused wife, Cherly Barker provides a vocal highlight; although a softer, more girlish tone would better convey the character’s essential ethereality and fragility after Otello’s public humiliation of her. However, Douglas McNicol is a fine Iago, compelling in his villainous characterisation.
The Opera Queensland Chorus dominates, as was the case with 2012’s “Macbeth In Concert”, reveling in the magnificence of the work’s monumental choruses. The real highlight, however, is Verdi’s score, beautifully interpreted by the Queensland Symphony Orchestra, especially in the strings and brass sections.
Though the magic is lacking from the “Otello” web, much promise awaits in Opera Queensland’s 2014 season, particularly “La Boheme” and “The Perfect American”.