Verdi, OTELLO: Antonello Palombi (Otello), Gregory Dahl (Iago), Erin Wall (Desdemona), John Cudia (Cassio), Megan Latham (Emilia), Thomas Goerz (Lodovico), Martin Sadd (Roderigo), and Angus Bell (Montano), Vancouver Opera Orchestra, Jonathan Darlington (Conductor), Vancouver Opera Chorus, Kinza Tyrrell (Director); directed by Michael Cavanagh, Queen Elizabeth Theatre, May 4, 2017.

All photos by Tim Matheson

All photos by Tim Matheson

An ambitious first festival for Vancouver Opera: Otello, the greatest Italian serious opera of the 19th century; Le Nozze di Figaro, the greatest opera buffa ever written; and Dead Man Walking, one of the most performed of contemporary operas. If Otello is any indication, the festival is on its way to a resounding success.

The quality of this production was immediately apparent in the excellent sound of Maestro Darlington’s orchestra, providing admirable clarity in the opening storm sequence and throughout, doing fine justice to the brilliant and subtle instrumentation of late Verdi.

An equally striking feature was the direction of Michael Cavanagh, its action respecting the libretto and score, the blocking making strong sense of the story, drawing the audience in to this most harrowing of domestic tragedies. This was particularly true of those sequences featuring Iago, played by Gregory Dahl, dramatically the most compelling character in the opera and the most gifted actor on stage. This holds both for the bigger scenes (for example, the drinking bout of Act 1 and the concertato ending Act 3, both executed with confident fluidity), and the more intimate ones, particularly the sinister initial temptation of Otello in Act 2, conducted with chilling relish and contempt by Iago. Dahl’s habit of calculated observation, often beginning upstage to suss things out before moving on to business, well conveyed his character’s use of suggestion to ensnare Otello in his own uncertainty.

The rest of the cast proved strong, with Antonello Palombi providing a tormented hero sung in a robust tenor voice with a satisfying baritonal finish. He brought out the anguish of the hero well, if at times relying rather much on parlando. Erin Wall made a vulnerable and sweetly-sung Desdemona, her Act 4 signature numbers performed with real distinction. Her innocence was nowhere more affectingly conveyed than in the lovely garden scene of Act 2, with the children’s chorus adding poignant contrast to Iago’s treachery and Otello’s growing agitation. The smaller roles were well filled, too, with John Cudia’s Cassio and Megan Latham’s Emilia standing out for their natural acting and persuasive singing.

The production emphasized the helplessness of Iago’s various victims, with a high set imposing its sense of entrapment on the characters, until the bedroom at the end became a torture box (complete with the allegorical chains that descended in Act 3—perhaps a touch over the top), where Otello’s induced suspicions were given full reign. Throughout were many moments that mesmerized with ominous dread, finely shaped by Cavanagh and the set of Erhard Rom. (Only in Act 3 did the stage illusion let us down with the momentary appearance of the computer programme behind the projections.) The ending was particularly strong, with Palombi regaining a measure of dignity after Otello’s dreadful actions born of his catastrophic misreading of his wife’s innocence.

A gripping Otello from Vancouver Opera -- and a promising start to a new venture.


© Harvey DeRoo 2017