Vincent Brossard’s production of Verdi’s Otello for the 2016 Salzburg Easter Festival is both elegant and subtle; the latter quality being backed up by superb singing and acting from the principals. In many ways the production is clean and straightforward with a focus on character development but it also makes use of elegant lines and sharply contrasting darks and lights in creating the stage picture. There’s also a really cool use of mirrors during Già nella notte densa that I can’t quite figure out.
There is one interpolated element in the form of an angel played by actor/dancer Sofia Pintzou. There are no useful explanatory materials about the production neither on disk nor in the booklet so I’m forced back on my own interpretation. I think it’s Desdemona’s guardian angel; something she references in one phrase in Act One. In any event this character is present for much of the first two acts generally carrying a candle or a flame of some kind. It’s also central to the very effective opening storm scene. When Otello denounces Desdemona the angel goes up n flames only to return in the final scene, disfigured and bandaged, to usher Desdemona out of this life. I thought it was quite an effective device but I guess purists will likely object.
What I really liked about the singing and acting of both the Otello, José Cura, and the Desdemona, Dorothea Röschmann, was the range, subtlety and depth. Cura presents a fully human, attractive but deeply flawed Moor. It’s a massive contrast with Antonenko’s performance on the 2008 Salzburg recording. Perhaps Antonenko is more classically “heroic” of tone but his emotional range of grumpy to grumpier palled on me. Cura is endlessly fascinating. Even in the final scene he’s lyrical, even gentle. Röschmann is wonderful. She sings absolutely beautifully and creates just about the ideal Desdemona; vulnerable, faithful and with a certain sense of inevitability. Carlos Álvarez, Iago here, outdoes his earlier Salzburg performance. Vocally he’s absolutely solid and nobody is going to make Iago over subtle but set against the performances of Cura and Röschmann he seems to become not just a moustache twirling villain but the herald of a new world of doubts and uncertainties. Obviously much of this is in the direction (and in Chritian Lacroix’s costuming) but Álvarez makes the most of the opportunity.
All of the minor roles are solidly cast with particularly fine performances from Benjamin Bernheim as Cassio and Georg Zeppenfeld as Ludovico. There’s even a (very) brief appearance by Gordon Bintner as the Herald. Christian Thielemann conducts and shows the same sense of deep structure that he always seems to bring to Wagner. It probably helps that he has his Dresden forces; the Sächsischer Staatsopernchor and the fabulous Staatskapelle Dresden. The woodwinds are to die for.
Tiziano Mancini directs for video. It’s a B+ sort of effort. It doesn’t do real violence to the production but there are definitely times when I would like to see more of the stage. Part of the reason for this may be that much of the stage is quite dark much of the time, which may have scared him off, but things are clear enough on Blu-ray (though maybe not on standard DVD). It’s actually a very good picture and the DTS-HD sound is also top notch. The only extras on the disk are a few trailers and the booklet has a not very useful essay, a synopsis and a track listing. Subtitle options are English, Italian, French, German, Spanish, Chinese, Korean and Japanese.
The earlier Salzburg recording mentioned above was the BBC’s top pick for an Otello video (before this one came out of course). I think this one beats it on every count.