Melbourne Opera, brings to us Rossini’s “Otello”, as it’s final presentation for 2018; marking the 150th anniversary of his death.
While some may be confused, thinking it’s about Shakespeare Othello, Rossini at the time of writing Otello was unaware of the Shakespearian play, let along considering to adapt it into an Opera.
As with all classical and timeless works, Otello which was first performed in Naples 1816, still speaks; and is just as relevant in Melbourne 2018.
Melbourne Operas presentation of Otello under the direction of Bruce Beresford is exceptional, as originally intended, Beresford sets the Opera in 15th Century Venice.
Each character is well defined, while at the same time supportive to the other stage characters, the diction is also very clear which you would expect considering the world-class and pedigree of the performers.
This production is presented in plain English, with English subtitles, making it very easy to follow.
The first thing I noticed was the simplicity of the stage, Greg Carrol – Set Design and Construction has provided a simple and yet stunning set, with minimal props, the settings giving the illusion of a much grander stage area, with plenty of open space. The backdrop is a masterpiece, allowing for quick scene changes, and the magic which was to come in the final act.
Rhiannon Irving–Costume Designs are stunning, not over the top or audacious, simple in design and yet with a depth of colour and tones which when presented under lights provided the realism that is relatable.
Lighting Design by John Collopy was very clever, especially for effects coming from the off-stage lighting. At times lighting can be a tricky thing, the only element that was under par related to the ensembles lighting during the splendid ball, the first row of the chorus found themselves “in shadow” while the other two rows were well lit, this was a bit disappointing as their facial expressions were lost.
Beresford’s keen eye for placement and direction made full use of the staging area, allowing for each character to fully develop and relate to both audience and cast. He is a true master, having directed over 25 films including classics like Breaker Morant, Driving Miss Dasy and Mao’s Last Dancer, along with Operas such as Rigoletto for the Los Angeles Opera,
The Crucible for Washington Opera, A Streetcar Named Desire for Opera Australia.
One of the many highlights of this production is the video artistry produced and directed by Liliana Braumberger – Video Artist, the development of the “sunset” screen is simply pure magical artistry which enhances the various moods during the third act.
Greg Hocking AM – Conductor / Producer and his wonderful orchestra provides the highest musical level and skills which gives honour to Rossini’s Otello. The artistry of providing an orchestral representation of a thunderstorm during the Third Act, as sighted in the original works is stunning, overall it was a treat to witness and listen to the music produced under Hocking’s direction. The musical score provides many variations and opportunities, arias, duets, trios, quartets along with duets between duelling tenors, Otello has it all.
What a cast of principles, all of them presenting such a vivid and dramatic performance. Their workmanship draws you nearer to each character, along with their interactions and the development of the Opera, to its final conclusion.
Stephen Smith – Otello. Smith, is not only a rich tenor, his expressive emotions, acting and interactions with Desdemona, Rodrigo and Iango, but he also held the audience spellbound.
Smith, is no stranger to the Opera with a long and impressive resume of local and International performances.
Elena Xanthoudakis – Desdemona. Xanthoudakis handles this demanding role with strength, ease and emotional energy. The principal performance of the Willows Song and her evening prayer is mesmerising, in captivated the audience, (you would have heard a pin drop), Desdemona’s interaction between Otello and Rodrigo becomes the glue and the catalyst between them.
It is always a pure delight to experience any performance from Xanthoudakis, who’s extensive achievements includes winning over eighty, first prizes including the National Liederfest, the Maria Callas International Grand Prix and the International Mozart Competition in Salzburg.
Boyd Owen – Rodrigo is the third major character in this triangle. Owens performance provided both light and shade, plus the intensity and emotion between Desdemona and Otello.
While this is Owens debut in the role for Melbourne Opera, he is also a very high calibre performer with an immense list of impressive performances.
Henry Choo – Iago. Choo is regarded as one of Australians finest lyric tenors, his performance as lago, which demands a large vocal range provides testimony to this statement, His facial expressions and side gestures provide little doubt to this characters plans and schemes.
Choo, an alumnus of Opera Queensland Young Artist Programme and Opera Australia’s Moffatt Oxenbound Young Artist Program made his career debut in 2004.
Since then he has performed with Opera companies around Australia and New Zealand as well as International festivals in Edinburgh, Macau and Ackland.
As with many Opera’s, there are happy and sad endings, Originally Rossini’s Otello had a sad ending with the death of Desdemona, however, due to political pressures Rossini changed the ending to suit lovers seeking a “love conquers all” ending.
This presentation remains true to the original, so the ending is sad, with the demise of Desdemona.
The Third Act is dedicated to this end, everything builds up to the ending, the drama, the music, the vocals and the special effects. All of it does not disappoint.
The whole Third Act is well worth the price of admission.
If you love good theatre Otello is one production you should not miss.
Rossini’s Otello is currently at the Athenaeum Theater
188 Collins Street Melbourne
October 20,24 and 27