Roughly every two years Perth Festival programs an opera with West Australian Opera and the result inevitably exceeds expectations. This year the collaboration broadened to include 5 other opera companies – New Zealand Opera, Cape Town Opera, Opera Victoria, State Opera of South Australia, Queensland Opera – in a massive tri-nation extravaganza.
Verdi’s Otello was given a reworking by director Simon Phillips. The action was set below deck on an aircraft carrier – hooray for fresh ideas – with walls dropping open to reveal the ocean or a helicopter arriving or the pier crowded with people. The cold light (Nick Schlieper) and clean lines (designer Dale Ferguson) of this claustrophobic man’s world was an effective backdrop to the hot-blooded emotions of Boito’s characters and Verdi’s music.
Otello was sung by Italian tenor Antonello Palombi with a magisterial voice that lingered tenderly in his love duets and grew ever more explosive until his final shattered aria. The malleable Otello was contrasted with a marble Iago, powerfully sung by James Clayton, grim and menacing under red flouro lights as he declared his devilish ‘credo’.
Cheryl Barker sang Desdemona with utter conviction although her ‘Willow Song’ drooped in pitch. Fiona Campbell was an attentive Emilia and Henry Choo’s bright tenor was well suited to Cassio.
The WA Opera Chorus under new Head of Chorus Joseph Nolan and with additional members from Cape Town Opera Chorus sung with a power and conviction I haven’t heard for years. WA Opera director Joseph Colaneri proved why Otello is his favourite opera, leading the WA Symphony Orchestra in a polished and secure performance from the stormy opening to the poignant instrumental solos. (Although I must mention the awful pitch problems in the cello section!) I think Colaneri may have converted some new Otello fans in Perth, and I am very excited about the rest of the WA Opera season under his helm.
One show to go on Feb 11th, book here.
(Apologies for the lack of photos, my picture uploader is proving faulty!)