The late Patric Standford may have written these short pieces deliberately to provoke our feedback. If so, his success is reflected in the rich range of readers' comments appearing at the foot of most of the pages.
This production was programmed for the 2019 Maggio Musicale Fiorentino and for the return of Zubin Mehta (now eighty-four) to his beloved Florence orchestra and theatre, after a major cancer operation as well as a period of rest. Due to the pandemic, the production was postponed and rescheduled to have its debut on 30 November 2020. The new wave of COVID19 threatened a cancellation. An arrangement was made with the National State Television Network to stage the production as planned although without audience in the theatre and to show it on television. I do not know whether there will be a CD or a DVD. Most likely, the television cultural channel RAI 5 will telecast it again and sell the rights to foreign TV stations. It is an important production. Most of the expenditure was paid by a sponsor. According to the TV Channel, the size of the 30 November audience was over seventy thousand.
This magazine has reviewed several live productions of Verdi's Otello as well as various CDs and DVD, most recently (on 17 June 2020) that with the Santa Cecilia Orchestra under Antonio Pappano's baton and with Jonas Kaufmann in the title role.
Thus, this review focuses only on the 30 November performance. The dramatic production - stage direction by Valerio Binasco, sets by Guido Fiorato, costumes by Gianluca Falaschi, lighting by Pasquale Mari - develops the plot in a war zone, sometime in the 1940s. Cyprus is half-built and half-destroyed, presumably due to bombing by the foes of the Venetian Republic. The sky is very cloudy; the furniture is very simple, almost bare, even in the bridal chamber of the fourth act. Within this context, another war develops: that of a husband and a wife, who both suffer from one of the strangest and most atrocious evils that can affect a couple: 'too much love', the wrong love, victims of the worst demon that exists that is, precisely, love. Otello is a man who knows how to win wars but does not know how to overcome the power of love at home. An ingenious, fascinating and engrossing reading. Claudia De Toma is the TV director, however there are too many long shots to cover both the orchestra and the stage.
Zubin Mehta has been a star of the Florence opera house for nearly fifty years. I recall two Wagner Ring productions conducted by him - one in the 1970s and one in the first decade of this century. He not only conducts the orchestra but also leads the singers and chorus too, in close tune with the stage director and the rest of the creative team. In this Otello he extracts and emphasizes all the elements of what was considered 'new music' in 1886 when the opera had its debut. Thus, there are several references to Wagner's music that Verdi as well as Arrigo Boito had studied very carefully. Not only the close tune with the action I already referred to, but the accent on leitmotif (eg between the end of the first act and that of the fourth act), the careful description of nature (such as the storm in the first act and the calm sea in the third act), the tense dialogues in music in the second act. The Florence orchestra loves its conductor and plays at its best. A very innovative Otello, this, even compared with the recent Pappano CD.
In addition to the three protagonists - Fabio Sartori (Otello), Marina Rebeka (Desdemona) and Luca Salsi (Jago) - the cast includes Riccardo Della Sciucca (Cassio), Caterina Piva (Emilia), Alessio Cacciamani (Lodovico), Francesco Pittari (Oderigo), Francesco Milanese (Montano) and Francesco Samuele Venuti (a herald). As chorus master, Lorenzo Fratini prepared the chorus and children's chorus. Overall, an excellent cast.
Let us focus on the three protagonists. Fabio Sartori's Otello is quite different from the recent Kaufmann Otello. The latter is introverted and tormented by his inner tragedy. Sartori's Otello is extroverted, sanguine, passionate and sensual in the tradition of Atlantov, Galouzin, Vickers and, above all, Del Monaco in the great live recording of a Tokyo 1959 production. He goes smoothly from a very high register to mezza voce and soft declamation. A real heldentenor but with an Italian, Latin flair.
As this magazine underlined in a CD review on 12 April 2020, Marina Rebeka is one of the few absolute sopranos now available. She goes easily from a very light lyric soprano register (at the end of the first act duet) to the dramatic soprano style at the end of the third act. She was superb in the fourth act when she dominates the scene and the action.
Luca Salsi as Jago is sneaky, crooked and devilish. His 'Credo' is stunning and terrifying: a real manifesto of ills.
This was a memorable performance.
A last remark: many years ago, I had the opportunity to meet Maestro Mehta in Florence, where he was often a guest of my late cousin Giuseppe Paternò Castello. Zubin is a cosmopolitan, highly educated intellectual, extremely simple in his contacts.
Copyright © 2 December 2020