Welsh National Opera
Welsh National Opera, Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff
Staging a new production of an opera is an enormous undertaking and can raise some very difficult questions. Last year WNO revived Peter Stein's production of Falstaff. Though dating from over twenty years ago it is fine version and was well worth reviving. If anything Stein's staging of Verdi's Otello was even better but this has been scrapped for a new and far less convincing staging by Paul Curran.
It has a few good ideas. Desdemona appears right from the start and drives the chorus in their concern for Otello's ship; in the last act Cassio hands Otello a dagger to give him an honourable way out. But that was as far as it went. For much of the rest of the evening soloists seemed to wander aimlessly about the stage, avoiding the large rocks which became an idée fixe to the extent that they even turned up in Desdemona's bedroom!
Thankfully the singing overcame many of the problems with the staging, secure in the hands of Dennis O'Neill's grizzled More and Amanda Roocroft's rather knowing Desdemona. David Kempster's Iago brought strength without characature and smaller parts were all cast from strength.
The costumes were as idiosyncratic as the set with Emilia looking like Pocahontas. Does nobody do an objective check at any stage to question how aspects of either set or costume will work in the light of a staged performance? Act Three was certainly a tour-de-force with a massive Venetian lion coming in across the back and vibrant Venetian state costumes, but then the cast simply stood and sang as if it were an oratorio.
Carlo Rizzi and the orchestra were splendid and went a long way towards making a memorable evening from a visual boor, and the chorus were as magnificent as ever.
The evening before we saw a revival of Giles Havergal's commedia styled production of The Barber of Seville. Here the problem was almost the opposite of the new Otello. An interesting conception for the production with a strong sense of theatricality and comedy, it needs equally strong singing to carry it through and – certainly on this opening night – the cast all seemed under par. Laura Parfitt's Rosina was the strongest and her Count was sweetly sung by Colin Lee if without the dramatic edge to carry it through. John Moore was disappointing as Figaro seeming out of his depth both vocally and dramatically. Gareth Jones kept the band together with aplomb but never quite created the frisson which should come with a work of this magnificence.
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