Otello, ENO at the Coliseum

It s hard to put into words my bitter disappointment, frustration and anger at this pitiful new production of Verdi s Otello.

David Freeman s idea of updating the action to modern day Cyprus is fair enough, but the fact that, within Tom Phillip s hideously cheap and vulgar designs, he fails to instil any life into any of the characters almost sinks Verdi s opera without trace. Romance, tragedy and emotion are nowhere to be seen. I wish no offence to the Crawley Amateur Operatic Society (if it exists), but this wretched show would have been unacceptable by their standards. The fact it was allowed to take to the stage of the ENO simply beggars belief.

Otello, Desdemona and Iago are reduced to ciphers in this vacuous nonsense, and it is testament to the performers professionalism and musical attributes that they manage to struggle through to the end. The laziness of it all is simply unacceptable. The stage is divided into two by metal fences and barbed wire with high security gates left unlocked for people to come and go as they please - such is the empty-headedness and lack of thought, concern or respect of the production team. Disgraceful!

If this was my first Otello, nothing would have convinced me that this opera is not only the crowning glory of Verdi s career, but the pinnacle of 19th century Italian opera. And for that alone, this woeful effort is utterly unforgivable.

Needless to say the chorus, principals and the conductor all sound and look as though they would rather be somewhere else, and can you blame them? Paul Daniel, usually such a secure and idiomatic Verdian, fails to ignite any tension into the score and skates superficially through most of the music. Set pieces go for nothing and the opening storm and choral singing is feeble (I will draw a veil over the singing of the children s chorus in Act 2). I never thought I would hear this incredible score sound so plain, and so unmoving.

David Rendall sings his first ever Otello, and my heart goes out to him for having to do so in such unhelpful circumstances. He sings well, pitch sometimes wayward, top notes thrillingly projected. Susan Bullock s Desdemona somehow manages to take the performance to a different plane with an exquisitely voiced ‘Willow Song and ‘Ave Maria in the last Act - the only time when Verdi s genius shines through. Otherwise she copes well, and deserves some sort of medal for agreeing to wear the most unflattering costumes ever! Robert Hayward is a loud, forceful Iago, but my notion of evil does not encompass fiddling with a pair of glasses.

A total let-down!

Keith McDonnell