The build-up to Jonas Kaufmann’s first appearance as Verdi’s
Otello was intense. Not since Plácido Domingo essayed the role a
generation earlier have expectations been pitched so high as on
the night when Kaufmann stepped on to the stage at the Royal
Opera House last year as the centrepiece of a new production.
In the event the general verdict was good, but
underwhelming. Even Domingo was thought to be vocally a touch on
the small side at the start and Kaufmann’s tenor is at least one
size smaller again. On this live DVD, though, size of voice is
less important than artistry and dramatic impact.
noble, burnished warmth of Kaufmann’s tenor is right, and his
musicality is impeccable, a constant pleasure throughout this
performance. He makes a deeply thoughtful, romantic figure out
of Shakespeare’s tragic hero, though not one who seems prone to
jealousy or rage, which is difficult given the story, and
certainly not a wounded lion of a man, as Jon Vickers used to
Even so, Kaufmann is the number one reason for
buying this album. It might be tempting to say the only reason,
except that Antonio Pappano is a strong force down the pit,
drawing impressive playing from the Orchestra of the Royal Opera
House. Maria Agresta’s Desdemona and Marco Vratogna’s Iago have
the advantage of being native Italians, but she lacks beauty of
sound and he is rough-hewn and dry of voice.
It is hard
to find anything positive to say about Keith Warner’s
production. It looks even more gloomy and static on film than it
did in the theatre, and its set pieces are horribly contrived.
Any dramatic force it exerts is thanks to Kaufmann, the raison
d’être of the production, and equally so of this DVD.