Rushing to see “Otello” in Munich with Kaufmann, Harteros and Finley

Unquestionably, the most exciting event of the season was the premiere of “Otello” with Jonas Kaufmann and Anja Harteros in Munich. The demand for premiere, according to rumors, exceeded seating capacity of Nationaltheater 25 times, while for the total run of 7 performances number of ticket requests exceeded 100 000. Thus, when receiving email informing of ticket for the most sought-after opera performance, I was ready to sacrifice not only previously planned trip to Paris, but whatever else was coming up my way till November 23rd.

The Black Friday turned into Friday of multiple travel issues for me, experiencing 17 hours on the road to reach Munich, – airplane technical issues, change of aircraft, failed landing and reroute, missed flights, torturous airport wait hours, mad search for alternatives, more technical problems and delays, finally landing in Munich in time to join radio broadcast to listen on the train and hope to be in time for Act 3 at the Nationaltheater.

From the radio broadcast I admired the clarity and embedded emotion of Anja Harteros voice, it was the first time I heard her Desdemona. Gerald Finley as Iago was very impressive, creating his scheming, treacherous character with pure vocal means – admirable since this is his role debut. Jonas Kaufmann was tender and loving Otello in the love duet, not so sure about more heroic parts. Supporting roles on the radio broadcast seemed a bit distant from the microphones, which did not show in the live performance when I finally heard the whole ensemble in the theater.

Anja Harteros as Desdemona, Jonas Kaufmann as Otello. Photo: Wilfried Hösl

When arriving at the theater I observed the usual premiere crowd enthusiastically discussing their impressions from the first two acts, and most frequently Harteros and Finley was mentioned along with Petrenko conducting. Some disagreements were here about Kaufmann as atypical Otello.

During Acts 3 and 4 I even more admired the vocal capabilities of Anja Harteros and Gerald Finley, was quite happy to see Jonas Kaufmann acting depicting this traumatised, obsessed and disoriented outcast, while his vocal performance did not impress as in his other Verdi or Puccini roles – and I was questioning myself if this is his/ director’s interpretation focusing too much on internal challenges of the main protagonist or would it be better for Kaufmann not to take the role of Otello? What was missing for my fragmented perception of the evening was the side of glory, pride, achievements of Otello that earned respect and admiration from society regardless of him being different – some macho element what certainly should be there. The character I saw on the stage was very questionably a man anyone would be content to follow in the battle – either in war, politics or business. Too much of ordinary man?

Gerald Finley as Iago. Photo: Wilfried Hösl

That was not the case for Iago in simple t-shirt and sneakers, scheming and acting politician, arranging his agenda behind the back of main protagonists and steaming from hate internally. All this was painted by Gerald Finley – even if he has lighter shade of baritone than typical Iago might sound, it benefits greatly to close the vocal distance between Iago and Otello, especially as Kaufmann’s voice has a bit darker shade. Even if Otello is an outcast, he is not so different from that dark hero, who is ready to cheat, betray and murder.

Anja Harteros at curtain call

If sometimes critics suggest to rename the opera to “Iago”, which also might apply to this particular production, I would like to propose that “Desdemona” would be even more appropriate for the current case. Anja Harteros created a character that significantly differs from usual naïve, helpless and victimized heroine. Her Desdemona is passionate risk-taker, emotionally mature individual understanding consequences of the choices made by herself. There is always a hope for more favorable outcome, and Harteros demonstrates that even in her last words – vocally and dramatically impeccable performance, shining star of the night!

The production regardless of typical Regie theater shortcomings was well thought out, the sets by Christian Schmidt are smart and clean, and from what I was able to see in the second part of the performance, it is worth to see it in full during upcoming livestream.

Petrenko as always led orchestra enthusiastically, supported singers attentively and brought out beautiful details and nuances from well-known score.

So, join me in seeing the performance over internet on December 2nd or try your luck to get a seat at two performances in July – as current run is fully sold out.

Otello. Opera in four acts (1887)

Composer Giuseppe Verdi · Libretto by Arrigo Boito based on the play of the same title „Othello“ by William Shakespeare 
In Italian with German and English surtitles | New Production

Friday, 23. November 2018
07:00 pm – 10:05 pm 
Nationaltheater

Jago Gerald Finley

Cassio Evan LeRoy Johnson 

Roderigo Galeano Salas 

Lodovico Bálint Szabó 

Montano Milan Siljanov 

Ein Herold Markus Suihkonen

Desdemona Anja Harteros

Emilia Rachael Wilson

Conductor Kirill Petrenko

Stage director Amélie Niermeyer 

Sets Christian Schmidt 

Costumes Annelies Vanlaere

Light Olaf Winter 

Video Philipp Batereau

Choreography Thomas Wilhelm 

Chorus Jörn Andresen 

Dramaturgy Malte Krasting, Rainer Karlitschek

One thought on “Rushing to see “Otello” in Munich with Kaufmann, Harteros and Finley

  1. Good that you got there for the third act, at least. Anja Harteros and Jonas Kaufmann have both sung here in Frankfurt (many years ago). Bálint Szabó has often sung here and once came as the featured guest to my “Opern-Gespräche”.

    Liked by 1 person

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