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Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Otello, tragic opera in four acts [135.00]
Otello – Stuart Neill
Desdemona – Jessica Nuccio
Cassio – Davide Giusti
Iago – Roberto Frontali
Emilia – Tamta Tarieli
Roderigo – Manuel Pierattelli
Lodovico – Seung Pil Choi
Montano – Giacomo Medici
Herald – Franco Di Girolamo
Coro Lirico Marchigiano Vincenzo Bellini /Carlo Morganti (chorus master)
Pueri Cantores D. Zamberletti / Gian Luca Paolucci (chorus master)
Fondazione Orchestra Regionale delle Marche / Riccardo Frizza
Stage Direction & Set Design – Paco Azorín
rec. live July/August 2016 Macerata Opera Festival, Arena Sferisterio, Macerata, Italy
DYNAMIC 57767 Blu-ray [146.00]

Paco Azorín’s staging of Verdi’s Otello, a co-production between the Macerata Opera Festival and the Festival Castell de Peralada, won the Campoamor Prize as best 2016 production. Recorded in live performance at the 2016 Macerata Opera Festival, the neo-classical Arena Sferisterio in the Marche region is an outdoor arena originally conceived for sporting activities which is now a large capacity open-air theatre used for opera productions.

Verdi had an enduring passion for the works of William Shakespeare. In collaboration with librettist Arrigo Boito his final two operas Otello and Falstaff, based on Shakespeare plays, are widely regarded as twin summits of the Italian opera tradition. First performed in 1887 at Teatro alla Scala, Milan Otello was a resounding hit with audiences and critics alike; a success that has long endured. For this Paco Azorín staging of Otello held on evenings in July and August 2016 a large audience was drawn to the Arena Sferisterio with its generously broad stage.

Paco Azorín and his design team have chosen a theme that is darker, more sinister in both characterization and visually than I customarily encounter. Iago is positioned more centrally than usual in this production, a frequent malevolent presence in the background, putting his master Otello under virtual house-surveillance. Adding to the overall tension and sense of conspiracy and stifling claustrophobia is the constant, rather sinister presence of a creepy looking sextet of men wearing sleeveless leather jerkins who lurk closely in the shadows mainly behind Otello. It would be impossible to furnish such a huge stage so it isn’t attempted; instead Azorín employs minimal props for different scenes. There is a large model griffin dragged in for the people’s chorus celebrating the safe return of Otello, a four-wheeled wooden flat top wagon for Iago’s drinking song, a thicket providing a backdrop for the great love duet, some twenty high-back chairs to furnish the castle hall in act two and a modest sized bed for Desdemona’s bedchamber in the final act. The only fixed scenery is a set of large geometric blocks set at an angle which look like concrete that might pass for parapets. Albert Faura’s lighting keeps the stage predominantly dark with clothing virtually imperceptible unless the principal characters are being spotlit, often to visually stunning effect. Video projections are regularly projected on the extensive back wall, which adds greatly to the action, notably crashing waves for the opening storm scene, although nothing relating to Otello’s fleet of ships, and a weeping willow for the famous Willow Song.

With the opera originally set in late fifteenth century Cyprus Ana Garay’s costumes come across as a random mix of eras. The imposing figure of Stuart Neill’s greying and bearded Otello is seen in a long leather garment over chain mail out of the Middle Ages and later a floor-length velvet robe adorned with gold brocade. Jessica Nuccio as Desdemona is invariably seen dressed in a brilliant white gown that really stands out on stage. Cassio and Iago mainly wear what could pass for nineteenth century French officers uniform with blue frock coats although later Iago sports a contemporary leather-look bomber jacket. Most curious of all, Manuel Pierattelli as Roderigo is conspicuous for his boy-band haircut and skin tight black jeans. Often seen in the background, the large mixed chorus wear plain black clothes and markedly, in the final act, with painted white faces are dressed in black cassocks with large grey ruffs holding black masquerade masks on sticks.

Certainly not household names on the international stage the cast has been splendidly assembled and come together as a gratifying team. In the title role Stuart Neill cuts an imposing figure as a red-blooded and self absorbed General of the Fleet singing most attractively with steadfast control and a reasonable degree of expression. There is satisfactory light and shade to Neill’s tone although I was sometimes left wanting additional colours and a touch more bite. What is surprising is the amount of force used by Neill in act three when grabbing his Desdemona by the hair and throwing her roughly to the floor. Incidentally the American tenor hasn’t been blacked-up to sing the Moor but looks as if he has been given a substantial fake tan. Jessica Nuccio’s debut as Desdemona could hardly have gone better. The raven haired Italian soprano is a convincingly virtuous Desdemona coming across as highly vulnerable and submissive, taking all her husband’s false accusations of her suspected infidelity. Nuccio demonstrates her clear tone, together with plenty of weight to her projection, to considerable effect although her tone is just a touch unsteady requiring additional focus. Beautifully rendered by Nuccio, Desdemona’s lament ‘A terra!… si… nel livido’ is full of persuasive meaning.

Italian baritone Roberto Frontali, a Verdi specialist, excells as a malevolent and dangerous Iago constantly plotting and conspiratorial. Frontali is able to make the most of his voice which isn’t huge and profits from his significant stage presence. In Iago’s monologue ‘Credo in un Dio crudel’, which discloses the true depth of his evil character, Frontali sings with a constantly firm tone and a satisfying level of expression. Confident and committed in the role of Cassio, Otello’s captain, Davide Giusti demonstrates a steady and agreeable tenor which is ably projected. Coming across as uncomfortable in the role, bright tenor Manuel Pierattelli as Roderigo seems nervous throughout and can surely do much better than this. Mezzo Tamta Tarieli does all that is asked of her as the maid Emilia, wife of Iago. The playing of the Fondazione Orchestra Regionale delle Marche is impressive, under the steadfast baton of Italian conductor Riccardo Frizza, who is a new name to me although he has appeared in many of the world’s top opera houses. Playing with resilience the orchestra is certainly firing on all cylinders. The combined forces of Coro Lirico Marchigiano Vincenzo Bellini and Pueri Cantores D. Zamberletti do well, although in the louder passages the orchestra comes close to drowning them out.

Clear and well balanced, the stereo and surround sound options are generally well caught from what one imagines is a challenging outdoor acoustic. As I have come to expect, the video direction of Tiziano Mancini is top-drawer with a reasonable variety of shots ensuring the eye doesn’t tire. The accompanying booklet contains a useful track listing, a helpful essay by Danilo Prefumo and a synopsis. Although not provided here I would have welcomed some bonus video footage, namely interviews with the principals and Azorín’s creative team.

There is no starry cast of principals here at the Macerata Opera Festival nevertheless this is a most enjoyable production of Otello from Paco Azorín with the drama compellingly timed from start to finish.

Michael Cookson

Other recording details:
Costume design – Ana Garay
Lighting – Albert Faura
Choreography, Stage Movements & Combat Scenes – Carlos Martos
Video maker – Pedro Chamizo
Video direction – Tiziano Mancini
Picture format 16.9 - Filmed in High Definition
Sound formats:
a) Stereo LPCM 2.0ch 48kHz/24 bit
b) DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1ch 48kHz
Subtitle Languages: Italian (original language), English, French, German, Spanish, Korean, Japanese



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