DIRECTOR: Simon Phillips
CAST: Badri Maisuradze, Sarah-Jane Brandon, George Stevens, Violina Anguelov, with Members of Cape Town Opera and Cape Town Opera Chorus, and the Cape Philharmonic Orchestra
CONDUCTOR: Brad Cohen
Venue: Artscape Opera House,
Johannesburg - A Tri-national collaboration has resulted in a superlative staging of Verdi’s Otello – one in which unanimity of endeavour makes this production more than the sum of its many identifiable merits.
Among the latter are imaginative direction from Simon Phillips, strong leads supported by credible secondary characters, a magnificent contribution from Cape Town Opera’s ever-reliable chorus, Dale Ferguson’s outstanding set design, which evokes the claustrophobia of ineluctable tragedy, and faultless accompaniment from the Cape Philharmonic Orchestra under the dynamic baton of Brad Cohen.
Taken together, these strengths generate an operatic experience of noteworthy calibre.
The absence of a traditional overture precipitates the audience immediately into mid-action; the atmosphere is fraught with tension as the arrival of Otello is awaited aboard the aircraft carrier he commands. His safety is uncertain, as much from the outcome of battle as from the vagaries of the weather (a storm is raging out at sea), and spectators participate vicariously in this anxiety.
The battalion on the lookout for his return is embodied by the sizeable chorus, whose vocal prowess is well up to the demands of Verdi’s score.
Enter Otello, a presence less imposing than one might have expected – until he begins to sing. Tenor Badri Maisuradze brings a wealth of experience to this role, apparent in the ease of his delivery: secure in every register, he gives the impression that the part of Otello (one of the most exacting in the entire opera repertoire) has little to challenge him.
The most satisfying moments of an evening replete with pleasure come when Maisuradze joins forces with his co-lead, Sarah-Jane Brandon as Desdemona. Their tender duet towards the end of Act One is ironically matched in beauty by their final exchange in Act Four before her murder.
Brandon is both comely and supremely accomplished, and her performance confirms the prowess that won her the Kathleen Ferrier Competition in 2009.
Frequently in the course of this opera the role of Otello is almost eclipsed by that of Jago, sadistic exploiter of his general’s weakness. As is often the case, the villain’s personality has more impact than the hero’s (although Otello is not strictly heroic). George Stevens combines a powerful baritone with a commanding stage presence to make his performance nothing short of magisterial.
Violina Anguelov as Emilia shines without upstaging her mistress Desdemona in a perfectly calibrated reading of a difficult role.
If this is the standard of opera achieved by collaboration with other companies, all one can say is, Encore!