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SEEN AND HEARD INTERNATIONAL OPERA REVIEW
 

  Verdi, Otello: Soloists, Bayerisches Staatsorchester. Chor, Extrachor und Kinderchor der Bayerischen Staatoper.Conductor: Bertrand De Billy.Munich’s National Theater. 25.7.2009 (JMI)

Production from Bayerische Staatsoper.

Direction: Francesca Zambello (original) Nicolas Trees (Revival)
Sets and Costumes: Alison Chitty.
Lighting: Mimi Jordan Sherin.

Cast:
Otello: Johan Botha.
Desdemona: Adrianne Pieczonka.
Iago: Lucio Gallo.
Cassio: Wookyung Kim.
Emilia: Enkelejda Shkosa.
Ludovico: Steven Humes.
Roderigo: Francesco Petrozzi.
Montano: Christoph Stephinger.
Herald: Igor Bakan.


Sometimes after an opera performance, one thinks that the author gave the wrong title to his work. This thought has come to me on several occasions, when I have seen a great artist on stage who, due to their exceptional qualities, became the main focus, irrespective of his actual role status. Cases such as Aida/Amneris, Troubadour/Azucena, Don Carlos/Philip II or Robert Devereux/Queen Elizabeth are but a few examples. However, I never could have believed that this could happen in Otello, so great is the importance of the Moor over poor Desdemona in this work. Despite this, I confess that for the first time I'm inclined to think that this opera should  really be entitled Desdemona:  after seeing the exceptional interpretation by the Canadian soprano Adrianne Pieczonka, who was, quite simply, perfect in the role.

Adrianne Pieczonka has reached a degree of vocal and stage maturity that today makes her one of the very greatest sopranos around. There may be others who can exceed her in charisma or stage presence, but I cannot think of any other who is better than she is  as a singer. If I found her Ariadne exceptional a few days ago, what can I say of her Desdemona? Pieczonka gave a fantastic performance from beginning to end. I know that comparing  singers from different epochs is almost always inappropriate, but for those who have not seen and heard her yet, I have to tell you that she had the voice of an angel, she sang her role like an angel, and she played like a demon (who are of course angels themselves). She was absolutely wonderful.

This Canadian soprano is at a spectacular vocal and artistic moment in her career. Her incursions into the Italian repertoire have been rather limited and I think that they should be more frequent. Her recent debut in Tosca in San Francisco was a great success, and  I am now certain that  her interpretations of other major characters in Italian opera would be equally spectacular.

Let's not forge the Moor though. Johan Botha is one of the most important of today's tenors  and one of the few with  means sufficient to cope with  Otello's terrifying score. Since I saw him in the part for the last time two years ago, Botha has considerably deepened his interpretation, but he still has some way to go to fully interpret the complicated psychology of this role. In purely vocal terms he was quite  brilliant in the “Essultate”, was excellent at “Dio mi potevi scagliar” and he was even moving singing at mezza voce “Niun mi tema”. It is purely in the dramatic composition of the character where he still falls somewhat short.

The third important character here is Iago of course, sung and  interpreted by Lucio Gallo. This baritone is more than up to the demands of the part and he is also an excellent actor, although his singing is a slightly unvarying and his voice is not truly beautiful. Even so, he complemented an exceptional couple of protagonists very well. 

This production by Francesca Zambello was premiered here some 10 years ago, as a vehicle for José Cura (accompanied by Barbara Frittoli) as the protagonist. The production was not too persuasive from my point of views. There is a single set in the form of metallic ramps, which seems appropriate for Act I, but later on it becomes rather unconvincing as the  action is set in the 19th century. The costumes are always in bright tones and are quite attractive. The stage direction was not what I have come to expect from Zambello, particularly in the crowd scenes, where she is usually at her best. The story is well told however  and it has some interesting  details as in  the opening of Act II, where she puts Bianca on stage, a perfect introduction to the following intervention by Iago as he tries to bring Cassio into his plot.I n general, the staging  works better in the external  scenes than in the more intimate ones. 

Bertrand de Billy gave a good reading of the score, accompanying the singers with care. His conducting was very vivid in the first Act, falling more into routine in Act II. The second part of the opera was very well executed, especially Act III, where De Billy was once again quite exciting, the orchestral playing was intense and the chorus was excellent, well up to their usual levels.

The supporting roles were very well covered. Korean Wookyung Kim was a real luxury as Cassio,  Enkelejda Shkosa was a good Emilia  and Steven Humes was a sonorous and noble Ludovico.

There was a full house and the audience was certainly  appreciative of Adrianne Pieczonka. Johan Botha was also cheered, as well as Gallo and Kim. Bertrand De Billy received a very warm reception too.

José M. Irurzun

 

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