Of power and grace
Badri Maisuradze, tenor; Miriam Cauchi, soprano;
Alessandro Paliaga, baritone; Cliff Zammit Stevens, tenor, et al;
Astra Opera Chorus
Artistic director: Enrico Stinchelli
Malta Philharmonic Orchestra directed by Joseph Vella
Astra Theatre, Gozo
The Astra has given us yet another fine production, this time honouring Giuseppe Verdi’s birth centenary. It is the opera house’s second production of this great work, with the first one dating to 2003.
As fine is not perfect, and as nothing is perfect, my only gripe at Enrico Stinchelli’s artistic direction is the inclusion (intrusion) of the loud pealing of thunder in the opening storm scene and too much use of foggy effects.
The music, with a fine Malta Philharmonic Orchestra team led by Joseph Vella underlying every nuance in the score, could see well enough to that, especially when combined with the swelling movement of the chorus and the video projection of a vessel struggling amid the billowing waves creating the right atmosphere.
At first some choral cues were tackled rather indecisively, but things settled quickly and were really fine in the great Fuoco di gioia and later Iago’s malicious drinking song; in the Act II homage to Desdemona, children’s chorus included; and in the great concertato of Act III.
The handling of the crowd scenes went ahead slickly, and the costumes were fabulous: even Zeffirelli would have been pleased! The multiple and diverse use of mainly one great prop proved very effective, even when reduced to the sparest degree, as was the lighting, especially the alternating emphasis of red and black during Iago’s great Act II scene – his profession of utter,diabolic evil.
Vocally, Otello needs a strong cast of principals and these were available, beginning with Georgian dramatic tenor Badri Maisuradze. He had the necessary qualities not only to sing but also to act the role of the tender, loving husband to a blazingly jealous one (his was a great moment in Ora e per sempre addio!) and, finally, wife-murderer.
Miriam Cauchi’s voice suited her role of Desdemona very well. If rather a bit too meek at first, she did become the good wife secure in her husband’s love and esteem. This contrasted well with her honest anguished pleas for Cassio’s reinstatement and stunned innocence of any illicit dallying with him to which it led. A splendid love duet concluded Act I, as Venus twinkled prominently in the night sky to Otello’s Venere splende. Cauchi’s other great solo moment was in the Canzone del salce – Ave Maria, which was just great.
The other end of the principal trio was Alessandro Paliaga’s Iago, so good because he was so evil. Even if somehow his timbre was not 100 per cent the Verdian baritone, he used his voice to the best effect – whether in his (in)famous Credo, or his duet with Otello, Sì, pel ciel marmoreo giuro! (a great moment for both it was).
He was even more the insinuating, slimy mischief-maker when duping both Cassio and, worse still, Otello. He got his (offstage) just desserts in the end but by then he had wrought all possible mischief.
Speaking of Cassio, it is laudable of Astra to assign increasingly important roles to Cliff Zammit Stevens. He yet again carried off his part as leading secondary role in every possible way and I hope that the day will come when he will sing a leading role on that and any other local opera stage.
Lesser secondary roles were, in order of appearance, well interpreted by tenor Bernard Anthony Busuttil (Roderigo), Franco De Grandis (Ludovico), baritone Ken Scicluna (Montano), the lush-voiced mezzo-soprano Olga Sliepnova (Emilia) and tenor Mario Portelli (Araldo).