Deutsche Oper Berlin revives Andreas Kriegenburg’s Otello production from 2010. A giant scaffolding fills the stage (by Harald Thor) filled with bunk beds where men, women and children watch the drama unfold. A shelf full of humans, their demeanour and poor clothes reminding us of refugees.

Guanqun Yu (Desdemona) and Russell Thomas (Otello) © Bettina Stöß
Guanqun Yu (Desdemona) and Russell Thomas (Otello)
© Bettina Stöß

In the first scene, the sea battle happens on screen, maybe a movie, maybe a document of a real battle of some time before, which makes the “Esultate!” kind of out of place.

Children are omnipresent: Iago proclaims his “Credo” to them, Otello hides among them to eavesdrop on the conversation between Iago and Cassio. For the intimate bedroom scenes, in Acts 1 and 4, a dark black wall descends to hide the scaffolding. At the floor level of the scaffolding there are sinks where people wash, brush their teeth, and go on living their life. A man and a woman fight during Act 3, and he kills her by suffocating her, a premonition of events to come in the fourth act. The whole concept remains underdeveloped and hard to understand, although it did not hinder the enjoyment of the musical side of the performance.

The Orchestra of the Deutsche Oper produced a beautiful, full sound under the baton of Paolo Arrivabeni, underlying all the tragic moments with emotion and drive. The brass section in particular was always spot on, and the cor anglais in Act 4 spontaneous and moving.

George Gagnidze (Iago) and Russell Thomas (Otello) © Bettina Stöß
George Gagnidze (Iago) and Russell Thomas (Otello)
© Bettina Stöß

Russell Thomas, at his European debut in the role, gave an honest, committed interpretation of Otello. His voice had a very natural, unaffected quality, with great Italian vowels and impressive sound and projection. The mezza voce was perhaps not his best asset, and the voice lacked a certain baritone quality we are accustomed to hear in Otello. After a sweet, heartfelt duet in Act 1, Otello’s madness became obvious and devastating already from Act 2. In Act 3 Thomas was perhaps at his best, terrifying and broken at the same time, his “A terra! E piangi” full of sadness as well as rage. His “Dio, mi potevi scagliar” was full of emotion and nuances; it would have been a beautiful moment, if a child hadn’t been patting Otello’s head to console him, with ensuing hilarity in the audience. Overall, Thomas’ was a very successful performance.

Desdemona was Guanqun Yu, whose lyric soprano was very well suited to the unhappy wife. She had good technique and a remarkable smooth legato, which served her well in the willow song, and the following Ave Maria. Her singing was a bit monochrome, but the colour of the voice was beautiful.

Ronnita Miller (Emilia) and Guanqun Yu (Desdemona) © Bettina Stöß
Ronnita Miller (Emilia) and Guanqun Yu (Desdemona)
© Bettina Stöß

George Gagnidze was an impressive Iago, both vocally and theatrically. He had a tendency to push on the high notes, which resulted in occasional sharp intonation. His sweet tone during the duet with Otello, where he pretends sorrow and concern, was beautifully contrasted by the true scorn and disdain shown during his monologues, where the right amount of sneering and cackling managed to enliven a true villain.

Ronnita Miller was a remarkable Emilia, and managed to make an impression despite the small role. Her motherly, sweet attitude towards Desdemona made the unfortunate wife’s fate all the more real and sorrowful. Her powerful, mellow mezzo had great presence and came through even in the midst of full orchestral and choral forte in the wonderful Act 3 finale, which was one of the highlights of the evening.

Attilio Glaser sang the role of Cassio with a bright, high, powerful tenor, while all the other smaller roles were cast more than adequately and contributed to a successful evening. A mention goes to the chorus: the Chorus of the Deutsche Oper participated with precision, intonation and beautiful dynamics, as well as the Children's Chorus, admirably prepared by Christian Lindhorst.

***11