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  • Your Reaction: What did you think of Verdi's Otello?

Your Reaction: What did you think of Verdi's Otello?

Audience responses and press reviews of Jonas Kaufmann's hotly-anticipated role debut.

By Mel Spencer (Senior Editor (Social Media))

22 June 2017 at 10.38am | 38 Comments

Press reviews:
City AM ★★★★★
Bachtrack ★★★★
Evening Standard ★★★★
Independent ★★★★
MusicOMH ★★★★
The Stage ★★★★
Express ★★★★
Financial Times ★★★★
Guardian ★★★
Arts Desk ★★★
Telegraph ★★★
Times (£) ★★★
New York Times (No star rating - positive)

What did you think of Otello?
Share your thoughts via the comments below.

Otello runs until 15 July 2017. Tickets are still available.

The production will be relayed live to cinemas around the world on 28 June 2017. Find your nearest cinema and sign up to our mailing list.

The production is generously supported by Rolex and is given with generous philanthropic support from Mrs Aline Foriel-Destezet, Mrs Susan A. Olde OBE, Alfiya and Timur Kuanyshev, Lord and Lady Laidlaw, Mr and Mrs Baha Bassatne, John G. Turner and Jerry G. Fischer, Ian and Helen Andrews, Mercedes T. Bass, Maggie Copus, Martin and Jane Houston, Mrs Trevor Swete, Beth Madison, John McGinn and Cary Davis, the Otello Production Syndicate, The American Friends of Covent Garden, The Royal Opera House Endowment Fund and an anonymous donor.

By Mel Spencer (Senior Editor (Social Media))

22 June 2017 at 10.38am

This article has been categorised Opera and tagged by Keith Warner, Jonas Kaufmann, Otello, Production, review, The Royal Opera, your reaction

This article has 38 comments

  1. Peter responded on 22 June 2017 at 11:21am Reply

    I'm sure there may be comments on this production. Some large set pieces such as the galleon and large marble lion must have cost a fortune so I hope they can be recycled given they spent no more than 30 seconds on stage. I thought overall that it all worked well though I did like the bedroom set in the last act. Looked more like a furniture showroom. As for the performers, simply wonderful. Kaufmann was everything we hoped for. Heroic and a crumble in 4 acts. Great voice of course and he was in top form for his role debut. Agresta was beautiful of tone. I melted in that last act (it wasn't just the heat) and Vratogna so menacing. In many ways he was the star turn. Minor roles were excellent. The Opera House chorus were so loud and dominating. Perfect for this opera. Final word on Pappano and his orchestra. Sometimes a little too much volume that could be hard to capture the singing but by golly the storm was perfection. A wonderful night.

  2. Loge responded on 22 June 2017 at 11:55am Reply

    After a bad 'Esultate', Kaufmann got better and did a great love duet and a very intense 'Dio mi potevi scagliar'. He was certainly helped by Pappano's wagnerian approach. Agresta was perfect whereas Vratogna lacks voice and charm for his role.

  3. Harvey responded on 22 June 2017 at 3:20pm Reply

    Why no listing for the review on 'MusicOMH' - which appeared long before any of those listed above?

    • Mel Spencer (Senior Editor (Social Media)) responded on 22 June 2017 at 4:09pm

      Hi Harvey,

      We try and publish all the press reviews on the 'Your Reaction' piece and a range of tweets so as to ensure a representative sample of the public's viewpoint (good or bad!)

      In this case we wanted to ensure the national press reviews were published before we added a link to other reviews - we're still in the process of adding the final reviews which are being filed, and have now added a selection of reviews that were missing, including MusicOMH to this list.

      Many thanks for flagging

      Mel

  4. Brendan Quinn responded on 22 June 2017 at 4:34pm Reply

    Looking forward to it next week, glad to hear the production is not a Lucia disaster, seems to be neutral and not too intrusive from what I have read, at least no taps running, can't see any reason why the previous production needed changing, but why would the senior management (current crop) take any notice of the audience!

  5. Paul responded on 22 June 2017 at 5:16pm Reply

    Agresta absolutely stunning!!! More productions with her please!!!!!

  6. Juan Antonio Muñoz responded on 22 June 2017 at 11:17pm Reply

    Everyone will want to hear and see Jonas Kaufmann’s extraordinary “Othello”

    The word “extraordinary” represents well what the great German tenor achieves with this tremendous role, of such great vocal and dramatic demands. It rarely happens that an artist is capable of making something so much of his own that it does not resemble anything known before, becoming thereby incomparable. There is not nor ever has there been another Othello such as Jonas Kaufmann’s, as simple and surprising as that may be.

    His Othello is, first of all, much more of a lover and an easily manageable man than a fierce warrior hero. Such a condition of triumphant general begins and ends with his “Esultate!”, because from then on Jonas Kaufmann develops a character who is undecided to the point of weakness, uncomfortable in the exercise of political leadership and in the company of soldiers. It could be said that he projects the Moor as a man who is even afraid of not fulfilling his wife sexually, an idea which ends up by making his later murderous rage more understandable, with the marriage already consummated.

    The famous “glory of Othello” is an external triumph that is not related to what the Moor believes or thinks of himself, a feeling of perhaps social or¬
    racial impairment, which has broken his mind and soul. To this is added that very strange insistence that Desdemona loves him on account of his misfortunes and that he loves her for her pity: in fact, curious principles on which to base a love relationship.

    The storm with which the opera begins is an extrapolation of what Kaufmann’s Othello is feeling inside. The affirmation of others is not sufficient for the Moor to annihilate the monster he has in his soul which does not let him live. The idea of stage director Keith Warner is both symptomatic and brilliant when he places Othello arising from the bottom of the earth to proclaim his victory at the precise moment in which Desdemona’s figure appears from above, like a light: it is to her that he sings his victory and not to the people. In short, he is saying, “I can”.

    The duet with Desdemona was masterful in Kaufmann’s dark and velvety voice, including the pianissimo A in “Verene splende”. His acting progressed continuously until it reached the summit in the terrible duet with Desdemona and the stubborn insistence in the search for the handkerchief; in the monologue “Dio! mi potevi scagliar”, a prodigy of phrasing and construction during which his increasing anger is penetrated by an aristocratic authority that is accentuated by the magnificent physical presence of the tenor, and in the scene of the murder and subsequent suicide, where his fine musicality (unparalleled today in the world of opera), his nuancing capacity, the richness of his middle voice and his delivery translated themselves to an emotional state that took hold of the entire room.

    María Agresta, whose voice has grown and who is apparently unable to fully control her vocal volume to address the more intimate lines, was all right. Her Desdemona is innocent, but not fragile. Unfortunately, Ludovic Tézier cancelled his debut as Iago, because he would have been a perfect complement for the complex design of Kaufmann’s Othello; there was also the Italian Marco Vratogna, who is a more than efficient singer but is not able to portray the thousand faces of that demon who claims to be constituted by evil. Kai Rüütel’s Emilia was a routine act; Frédéric Antoun as Cassio, In Sung Sim as Lodovico and Thomas Atkins as Roderigo were all very good.

    Keith Warner’s production turned out to be a delight on account of its intelligence and disturbing beauty. The stage was understood as a sort of black box which, to a certain extent, “embodies” the darkness of the protagonist’s mind, with the light barely entering through small windows and filtering through walls of metallic arabesques. With virtual austerity, Warner built a picture of great psychological penetration, highlighting the chiaroscuri and a world of shadows where black and twilight blue predominate; the sky of the first act’s love duet has a new expressive opportunity with the night gown worn by Othello in the murder scene (one has to admit that it’s a suggestive idea).

    With recollections of Murnau film images and references to the expressionist theater and mental world of Orson Welles “Othello”, the setting uses white only for Desdemona and the Venetian court, the same which makes its entrance at the most inappropriate moment, crushing with its anthropological and statuary opulence –of government, of class– what little there was left of the acclaimed Moor. Shakespeare, Verdi and Boito would have been happy with this look at their drama.

    It was wonderful to have maestro Antonio Pappano on this historic evening! From its initial storm to the morendo chords of the last bars, the orchestra allowed us to listen to the thousand layers of this masterpiece and hundreds of details that are generally overlooked –such as the solo contrabasses during the last act– which tell us of a thick boiling of souls who inevitably walk towards condemnation.

    • A.Bisson responded on 23 June 2017 at 1:33pm

      It seems you are in love with your hero, which is no bad: but, before telling us your love, please listen to Mario del Monaco 1960 interpretation. Your love will be less intensive..!

    • Lavender responded on 23 June 2017 at 4:13pm

      You have misunderstood "She loved me for the dangers I passed/ And I loved her that she did pity them."
      This does NOT mean misfortunes. It means adventures, brave deeds.

  7. Hana Hirsch responded on 23 June 2017 at 5:39am Reply

    when and where (what movie theatre) will be HD screening of this opera availabe in NYC?
    Pretty please.....
    Hana

    • Chris Shipman (Head of Brand Engagement and Social Media) responded on 23 June 2017 at 2:57pm

      Hi Hana,

      Details of cinemas showing Otello in and around New York City can be found on our cinema pages

      Thanks

      Chris

  8. Carlo giordanetti responded on 23 June 2017 at 9:51am Reply

    Great and very modern musical interpretation of maestro Pappano, Otello under a new light. Loved Maria Agresta but her character want developed until the last scene , where she could really express a personal touch. Iago was well designed and very intriguing, alas vocally not powerful enough. Jonas Kaufman as Otello I found very uneven during the night : a bit too close to verismo moments sometimes . But very intense and engaging in the third act finale and the fourth. Amazing set of secondary characters and a production that flows without surprising. Unfortunately I don't feel I can join the praising chorus to the choir.

  9. francois responded on 23 June 2017 at 2:06pm Reply

    Outstanding conducting from Antonio Pappano, Orchestra and Chorus both in excellent shape. Pappano's interpretation is absolutely fascinating, he underlines so many subtle details from each instrument! Probably the most thrilling conducting of Otello for the last 20 years.
    Jonas Kaufmann is vocally an excellent Otello. It was his first night and his first Otello, so I am sure his interpretation will gain in maturity and complexity during the whole performances cycle. On Wednesday night I missed somehow more originality and a more personal approach of the character and the score, he was just a very good but rather standard Otello.
    For this reason and for a remaining part of the cast just "average", + a production which lacks drama, Wednesday was a good evening but not an exceptional one. I will come back later in the cycle of performances as I am sure it will improve in intensity and emotion.

  10. John Rose responded on 23 June 2017 at 7:34pm Reply

    I'm much looking forward to Otello,particularly Pappano's interpretation. He has a lot to live up to..Carlos .Kleiber in 1987 and,even better, in 1980 (I think!).
    No pressure then!

  11. John Rose responded on 25 June 2017 at 4:35pm Reply

    After having witnessed Saturday's performance,all I can do is to praise to the hilt the musical interpretation. Some doubts linger over Kaufman's suitability for this part,(despite his poetic musicianship)...and the production,although it has many telling moments,doesn't seem totally consistent to its aesthetic. But orchestrally it is absolutely thrilling from beginning to end. And has there ever been such a beguilingly beautiful accompaniment to the "Ave Maria" in Act 4: with its wonderfully quiet and concentrated string writing? ...against which Maria Agresta could only sing beautifully: and she did!
    A very fine evening indeed..

  12. Richard L Berry responded on 26 June 2017 at 11:03am Reply

    We were lucky to get a couple of seats on the 21 st GREAT NEWS bad news we were treated to a fabulous night in the sauna!! Up in the amphitheatre !!
    HOWEVER even being up at the top we could hear every word of Jonas from his most sensitive to the out cry at the end of act one!! A tremendous performance and one to add to those few occasions in opera they were truly world beating and unique
    THank you Jonas and thankyou to the whole team the orchestra ,papinnos truly moving interpretation of Verdi and in particular this Otello .The chorus good as Ever BUT lets not forget Iago the secret weapon of the evening tremdous!!
    Also Desdemona's last act willow song was truly moving after such a strong performance throughout?
    THANK YOU ROH and thankyou to all those great performances that made this sauna experience one that will never been forgotton

  13. Tim Lockley responded on 26 June 2017 at 4:16pm Reply

    Will there be a radio broadcast of this Otello? I know there's a cinema one but I hope Radio 3 will broadcast it as well.

  14. Robert responded on 26 June 2017 at 6:37pm Reply

    Quite an evening! More than anything else I was struck by the sumptuous orchestral sound and by Pappano's ability to really make the music be on stage - so to speak - all the time. I had the fortune of running into the Maestro when I left and I stopped to talk to him: although visibly tired he was kind and listened, apparently happy. All the singeres had memorable moments, from Kaufmann 'Dio, mi potevi scagliar', predictably very intense and touching, to 'le prime lagrime' of Maria Agresta, intense to the point that I could not hold the 'lagrime' myself. Vratogna has been accused of snarling at times, but overall the portrait of Jago - thanks also to his perfect diction - really came through. But there were many, many more memorable moments. I am sure the artists will work their roles further and eventually squeeze every nuance of each note. Perhaps in a few years Kaufmann will present a different Otello. Of course, those searching for an implacable Otello should turn elsewhere: Kaufmann won't give out tons of sound like Vinay or Del Monaco (perhaps, not even Vicker's). But he was a rarely heard human character and one really sympathizes with him, and until the very end one hopes that he may spare Desdemona. I am looking forward to Wednesday and, of course, to the DVD release.

  15. Mimi T responded on 27 June 2017 at 5:18pm Reply

    Having attended the most informative 'Insights' evening and heard the passion for the music and role interpretation ideas from the incomparable duo of Maestri Kaufmann and Pappano, Saturday's performance was eagerly anticipated. It was, simply brilliant, breath taking, The intensity of the love shown was brutally matched by the violence of emotion that wrecks Otello, both physically and mentally. Kaufmann's portrayal had us on the edge of our seats, especially as he clung to the side platform and front of stage. His voice and the orchestra under Pappano's baton, are a matchless combination. How many bass drums did he eventually decide upon, I wonder, for the storm scene?
    Wednesday and Sunday's screenings can't come fast enough to witness again their love for music and sheer dynamism. Huge thanks to all involved in producing this opera and making it such a memorable evening.

  16. Katherine Roppel responded on 28 June 2017 at 8:28pm Reply

    I am glad to know there will be a DVD, a great way to see and hear the many nuances in the production. I hope Herr Kaufmann's success in Otello will convince him to sing Tristan and Isplde--the entire opera. He seems meant for the role with his strong voice and yes--sex appeal.

  17. David Allen responded on 29 June 2017 at 3:36am Reply

    Saw this tonight. Took someone with us who had never been to CG before, she was so excited. And she is a Shakespeare devotee. Othello is one of her favourite plays and was intrigued when I said I thought it worked much better as an opera as Verdi cut out all the waffle at the beginning. At the final curtain she was literally screaming with delight as the tears flowed down her cheeks. I watched her and thought, that's why we all come to this wonderful theatre and love opera. Tonight, the performances were electric. The most complete Otello I've ever seen.The most beautifully sung version, with a very vunerable, self doubting central character. Jonas WILL go down as one of the great Otellos because I have never heard phrasing like that EVER. OK, the purists might like a few more decibels, but I doubt the character has ever been played more three dimensional and damn you hit those notes when needed to. The love duet was one of the most gorgeous interpretations and stagings I've seen- beautiful. The vengeance duet at the end of act 2 was greeted with bravos and bravis from around the house. As for Marco Vratogna, he is the best Iago for years. Then we move on the second half. Jonas, the disintegration of Otello during act 3 was so harrowing but so well sung ( my companion kept clutching her throat during this scene) Then the chorus banged out the arrival of the Venetians ( Christ, the're great). Nothing better than a brilliant chorus belting out Verdi, and didn't they just. Chorus master- great job sir. The final act (although not too sure about the set) more than made up for it for Maria's Willow Song and Ave Maria. Willow Song wonderfully sung and the Ave Maria was sung, not as a hymn, but in the same way as the 'Willow', a bit afraid and almost verismic. Great stuff. As for the final scene, singing, ACTING and some great moves. A great evening at ROH. Rapturous welcome for the cast and of course Le Pappano superb work with a fabulous orchestra. lights came up during the final curtain and everyone was still clapping and cheering. Crits, damn you. Must be frustrating for them to write a review that no matter what they say it wont make a bit of difference. A great Covent Garden night.

  18. James Gordon responded on 29 June 2017 at 9:16am Reply

    Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some seem to do their utmost to thrust greatness away from them. This is Kaufmann’s show - the ticket sales should make this clear enough (as well as explaining why I watched this in a Penrith cinema last night and not live). If only we could have seen him in the old production, which simply provided the necessary background to allow great singer-actors to tell their story. Otello is a work that too often impresses rather than moves.

    Verdi is not Wagner; there is no need for directorial Konzept. Late Verdi is modern in a way that Wagner never was (and, for me, is the lesser artist because of it). The opening dominant eleventh that never resolves but just peters out IS Iago – Warner’s opening at least is a brilliant stroke. But Verdi did not finally call this opera “Jago”. And Verdi’s Iago, unlike Shakespeare’s, is not killed by guards or led away to prison at the end; with a final nihilistic cry (“No!”), he runs into the outer darkness to wreak havoc on some other stage. Warner’s final homage to Shakespeare is as misconceived as the current, Schiller-inspired fashion for having Verdi’s Don Carlos shot at the end of Act 5. But the production is not a disaster. Something good could be made of it. It just needs decluttering, like Warner’s Ring after two or three outings. And a few spanners in the workings of those sliding sets would not come amiss...

    I can’t say how impressive Kaufmann’s two entrances in Act 1 may have been in the theatre. They certainly left little to be desired on screen. This is essential, as these moments are the only opportunity Otello has to establish his character before the process of destruction begins. In Kaufmann’s case, this is a process of self-destruction. Even more than Domingo’s, his glory is a sham, inspired by false idols (virgins in white, nautical toys for boys in scarlet and black – yes, the production has some good touches). This Otello would self-destruct sooner or later without any external influence.

    As others have said before, Kaufmann’s real glory is in the infinite shading and inflexion of his lower voice in the more introspective passages, combined with an almost unrivalled stage presence and ability to get inside a character. But the heroic tones are there too, in abundance. He thrills and moves in the farewell to arms and oath duet just as much as in “Dio mi potevi scagliar”. If this is his Otello after three performances, what might it become after twenty or thirty more?

    As with her Traviata, Maria Agresta disappointed at first but grew on me in the course of the evening as she developed a believable character that is hard to achieve in the first act duet. Her acting in the third act finale and her desperately lonely Willow Song and Ave Maria were high points of the evening.

    Marco Vratogna was new to me. He rises to the demands of the central role given him by this production, more than compensating for a somewhat unvarying tone with his compelling stage presence. His perfect diction renders subtitles superfluous.

    Conductor, chorus and orchestra were well-nigh perfect. Perhaps too much so. After the opening cataclysm, there was little sense of danger beyond that generated by the principals.

    So finally Kaufmann has performed the prelude to Tristan. Now can we have the next three acts? And is it really too fanciful to imagine him, as a previous correspondent appears to do, singing both Tristan AND Isolde?!

  19. Maria responded on 29 June 2017 at 1:51pm Reply

    Saw this via live link to a cinema in Aberdeen and enjoyed all of it.
    Many parts are memorable but the menace near the end of Act iv when Otello peers through the narrow window at Desdemona then creeps around the side of ironwork style walls,had me on the edge of my seat.
    Great evening,wish I had seen it at the ROH,although these live links give us all the opportunity to sample the joys of a huge production.
    Long may they continue.

  20. Brendan Quinn responded on 29 June 2017 at 2:12pm Reply

    This Otello was why I fell in love with the Royal Opera House in 1979 when I first went (Pavorroti Caballe in Un Ballo) to hear the really great singers of the generation do their stuff. Last night was just one of those sublime evenings that lives on in your soul for the rest of your life. Wonderful!

  21. Roy Hiscock responded on 2 July 2017 at 7:16pm Reply

    02.07.2017 - Could you get Iago to do something about those moronic unspeakables who tried to ruin the love duet by applauding before the music finished?

  22. Margaret P responded on 2 July 2017 at 7:37pm Reply

    Just arrived home from the Sunday matinee, WOW is all I can say after that performance! I needed a stiff cup of tea to recover. Brilliant all round, more Marco Vratogna please.

  23. Nelson Jones responded on 3 July 2017 at 9:59am Reply

    On yesterday's evidence, Kaufman will be one of the great Otellos. He isn't quite there yet, but so many of the elements are shaping up. I hope we get to see him again a couple of years hence when he has completely nailed it, as I'm sure he will.

    Generally loved the show. We do all realise how extraordinarily lucky we are to have Tony Pappano, don't we? The best Verdi interpreter, and probably the best all-round opera conductor, currently in post anywhere in the world.

  24. Jorge Rodrigues responded on 7 July 2017 at 8:38am Reply

    This has to be one of the most vapid, vacuous, tepid and indifferent productions I have seen at the ROH.

    Not even Kaufmann or Pappano could save it.

    Perhaps it is time Pappano or somebody tell Mr Warner (Pappano's 'buddy' as both parties repeatedly claim) that the paying public deserves better than a bland, derivative and dull production that should never be revived.
    This refer to the performance on 7 July 2017.

    • Richard Thorpe responded on 9 July 2017 at 12:28pm

      I quite agree with Jorge Rodrigues and find the favourable comments elsewhere
      completely mystifying. This was the worst production of OTELLO I have ever seen and I go back to 1962 and all the great names - Gobbi, del Monaco, Vickers, Domingo, Margaret Price, Solti and above all Carlos Kleiber. Otello is not Kaufmann's part. He is a lyric tenor not a dramatic one and I doubt he will sing the role very often again now he has "ticked that box". Acts 1 and 2 were dreary and boring, and Acts 3 and 4 just bizarre. The final scene was a travesty. An evening to forget.

    • penelope simpson responded on 13 July 2017 at 2:47pm

      I fear you are in danger of repeating yourself.

      Okay, we get it - you didn't like it. Many of us absolutely adored it.

      Enough now.

  25. Adrienne responded on 7 July 2017 at 12:46pm Reply

    Saw Otello on 6.07 for the third time, and it just keeps getting better and better! Jonas Kaufmann is simply phenomenal, and this role seems to be an ideal fit for him vocally. Dramatically, he has really grown into it since the beginning of the run, and I immensely enjoyed his nuanced, very human and moving take on Otello. What a fantastic singer! The other leading roles could not have been cast better. Maria Agresta was a vocally gorgeous Desdemona and Marco Vratogna truly inhabited the role of Iago. And Maestro Pappano - what a force of nature, we are so lucky to have him here at Covent Garden. Last, but not least, a huge thank you to everyone else involved in this wonderful production!

  26. Ekaterina N responded on 7 July 2017 at 2:48pm Reply

    Agree wholeheartedly with Jorge Rodrigues re production.

  27. Ekaterina N responded on 9 July 2017 at 11:19am Reply

    To the administration.
    I have just read comments by Adrienne ( this is not a criticism of Adrienne) who managed to get tickets for 3 performances while other people could not get any.
    A few years back there were restrictions of only 2 tickets for the whole run for some productions.
    While 2 tickets for the whole run seems very strict, restriction of tickets for one performance only can be introduced for such productions as this one to give more people a chance.

  28. Martin Houston responded on 10 July 2017 at 4:21am Reply

    Excellent production, just a bit too much blood in the final scene. The whole audience where I was burst out laughing! Which spoiled the dramatic effect.

  29. peterstephen responded on 10 July 2017 at 10:34am Reply

    Saw both casts and thought that the singing and the musicianship of the orchestra were of the highest order. Having a third voice in the form of the production was a distraction for me- like seeing a beautiful painting in the wrong frame.

  30. Dr Janet Rennie responded on 11 July 2017 at 11:49am Reply

    One of the best things I have ever seen at the ROH. Everything was perfect; the chorus were tight, well prepared and not as scrappy as they can sometimes be. The orchestra conducted by Pappano were fabulous, and all three major parts out of this world. I think the set worked fine - when the singing is this good a fancy set is not necessary as long as it sets the scene. I disagree that Kaufman, a a lyrical tenor, was not suited to this role. He brought a his special gifts to it and I will remember this production for a very long time. I could see it all again today, and I went yesterday.

  31. penelope simpson responded on 11 July 2017 at 12:42pm Reply

    Totally fabulous. I am walking on air this morning and it was one of the best nights of my life. Thank-you ROH for doing us proud once again.

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