In 400 years, Shakespeare’s tale of deception and jealousy has never lost any of its power. As an opera it is less well known, this being the first time Opera North has included it in its repertoire, staging it now as part of the company’s 200th anniversary celebration of Verdi’s death.
Sometimes with little revived pieces we can appreciate the work but understand why it is not seen more often. However, apart from the scale of this opera, it really is hard to see, particularly from an audience’s point of view, why Otello gets such a rare outing. The story has all the elements necessary to create the high drama opera requires and coupled with Verdi’s magnificent score heightens the emotions to an almost overwhelming degree.
It is a dramatic piece and this is a fitting production, set on an industrial dockland, with a striking design of iron and cold tiling which opens with a full chorus facing the audience. Unfortunately, at The Lowry on Wednesday, the two leads, Ronald Samm (Otello) and Elena Kelessidi (Desdemona) were both said to be suffering from colds, that seem to be afflicting so many with the changeable weather. Both decided to go ahead and perform, and apart from a small cough from Kelessidi at the curtain call, few would notice they were not on form.
Samm is an imposing and smouldering presence on stage, his physical size and strength making his downfall at the hands of Iago’s manipulation all the more tragic. While Kelessidi brings a delicate dignity to Desdemona and Welsh baritone David Kempster, revels in role of Iago, believably scheming as he toys with Otello, seemingly unaffected by the excess of emotions he is provoking.
The passion of the production, however, lies with Richard Farnes’ sensitive interpretation of Verdi’s score, which teases out tiny nuances of emotion from the orchestra. Sweeping us from the joy of first romance to the crashing torment of Othello’s madness, there is never a dull moment.