West Australian Opera: Otello
This was the first time that Verdi’s Otello had been exhibited in Perth and it was an absolute privilege to be there for opening night. I can imagine that our readership prefers contemporary music to classical performances and opera, but I implore you to discover the reason that this is such a timeless art form. The West Australian Orchestra’s Otello is a perfect bridge.
Rather than set Otello according the time, Simon Phillips positioned it on an Aircraft carrier – think US Navy rather than archaic swordsmen. As we rose to leave, an indignant patron to my left quipped ‘It would have been nice to see it in the period’. Considering it was the first time it has been staged here, I would have sympathised with her if she had said so before we had taken our seats. However, I was immediately won over by the fact it seamlessly worked to contemporise the show. From the laughs occasioned by the Navy personnel taking ‘selfies’ over a drunken Cassio to the extravagance of a full size model helicopter ‘landing’ on the stage, it was hard not to enjoy the adaptation. Designer Dale Ferguson and the whole production team should be proud of what they have achieved.
It began in unstoppable fashion. The power of the first act was something to behold. Seldom has the West Australian Opera had such a strong chorus, although they were of course helped by some wonderful members of the Cape Town Opera Chorus. There was not a voice out of place in the whole cast, and the force of the storm and chaos of battle was fantastically captured in the direction of Simon Phillips and the shear talent and explosiveness of the cast. Of course the act is equally reliant on the pit, and as we have the pleasure of getting used to, WASO did not disappoint. Joseph Colaneri conducted and was a credit to hiself and the entire orchestra, allowing the audience to appreciate why this is his favourite opera.
Having an Italian tenor playing Otello certainly added to the general awe that this production instilled in me, and Antonello Palombi was indeed an excellent casting. He provided both a forceful, yet farcical Otello which pleasantly broke up the doom of the action and the devilish portrayal of Iago by the WAO regular James Clayton. And he was brilliantly unlikable, drawing boos from the mouths of those who simultaneously clapped him fiercely at the curtain. Cheryl Barker has played Desdemona before, but there was no lack of vibrancy as she came to role reveling in its tragedy. Indeed, not a fault could be mentioned in the whole cast who each should excelled and made this production so praise worthy, reflected by the rousing ovation they received.
This is opera for everyone. Many people would have read or seen Othello, but more importantly, it is just so universally good, encompassing the passion and drama of opera that makes it so exciting with the contemporary world to bring about a feeling of both immense scale and entrapment capturing and emphasising the inescapable doom. This is tragic opera delivered for a new generation of opera lovers.
Otello plays at 7:30 on Thursday the 6th, Saturday the 8th and Tuesday the 11th of February at His Majesty’s Theatre. Tickets are available at: http://2014.perthfestival.com.au/Whats-on-by-Genre/Classical-Music/Otello