Friday 25 July 2008

DVD: Flimm/Barenboim with modern Otello from Berlin

Otello. Berlin State Opera 2001. Production: Jürgen Flimm. Cast: Christian Franz (Otello), Emily Magee (Desdemona), Valeri Alexejev (Iago). Conductor: Daniel Barenboim. Further information here.

For some reason Otello is very hard to update successfully from 15th century Cyprus. In that regard, Jürgen Flimm´s 2001 Berlin State Opera production celebrating the 100th anniversary of Verdi´s death is one of the most successful I have encountered.

The sets are both striking and original, based on abstract steel and glass structures, thematically focused on fire and water.

Apart from the Requiem, Daniel Barenboim is a rare conductor of Verdi, something that may change with his increasing commitment to La Scala. One would expect Barenboim to be excellent with Otello, which he is. Clarity, precision, explosiveness are keywords. And unsurprisingly: Rather slow.

While Christian Franz does not exactly kick Plácido Domingo into oblivion, he makes a reasonable effort communicates well enough as this far from heroic Otello. Except in the high register, which fails him exposing pitch problems as well. Emily Magee´s Desdemona is a strong woman, not a victim. Vocally she is rather straight-toned, lacking somewhat in both floating expressivity and dynamics. In comparison Valeri Alexejev makes a rather weak and wobbly Iago.

For a modern version of Otello, this is perhaps the best choice on DVD.

The bottom line (scale of 1-5, 3=average):

Christian Franz: 3
Emily Magee: 4
Valeri Alexejev: 3

Jürgen Flimm´s production: 4
Daniel Barenboim: 5

Overall impression: 4

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