David Alden's production of Verdi's opera stars a superb Stuart Skelton.
David Alden, celebrating 30 years of directing for English National Opera, marks the occasion with Verdi’s take on Shakepeare’s ‘Othello’, in which a military commander of noble bearing is deceived by his bitter ensign into questioning his wife’s fidelity and is then driven by jealousy to a tragic conclusion.
In the title role, heldentenor Stuart Skelton is in superb voice, fresh from being named Male Singer of the Year in the 2014 International Opera Awards, mostly on account of his ENO performance as Peter Grimes. And he appears to be still channelling that introverted, angry fisherman as he lurches around throwing furniture while in the guise of Otello, a character furious from the start rather than gradually becoming unhinged. (Curiously, while no one blacks up any more, as was once the convention for playing the Moor of Venice, Skelton instead sports dyed black hair in a dodgy perm, suggesting more a man stuck in the 1980s than a social outsider.)
As Otello’s demure and devoted wife, Leah Crocetto gives a fine turn as Desdemona. And yet, while her rich and colourful soprano nails the money notes with ease, it is hard to believe that she and her husband have a passionate relationship.
The most arresting performance is from baritone Jonathan Summers as the sly and demonic Iago. Passed over for promotion in favour of Cassio (well sung and acted by tenor Allan Clayton), he engineers the downfall of his master. Every word is clear and delivered with bile. Meanwhile, the part of his terrified wife, Emilia, is engagingly sung by Pamela Helen Stephen.
John Morrell’s unfussy, high, grey-walled set, acts as both a castle interior and a courtyard, allowing the action to flow, but providing no intimacy for the moments that require it – particularly the final scene. Scripted for a bed chamber, the finale is more a street brawl than a devastating breach of trust in the sacred marriage bed. But the set does provide a useful sounding board for the excellent singers – often necessary as conductor Edward Gardner drives the orchestra on in a powerful and gripping performance. Jonathan Lennie