If you take Rossini’s opera on its own merits, without reference to Verdi’s later masterpiece, let alone Shakespeare, it has much going for it.
However, it needs better espousal than it gets in this strangely staged concert performance in the Buxton Festival, on the first night at least when, in short, it was a visual shambles.
The opera has some extremely fine music in it, its most sustained dramatic and musical glory being the third and final act in its tragic version, not the one with the happy ending, but with a tenor in the title role (as originally written) for greater impact.
Buxton has opted to do the ‘Malibran Version’, which casts a mezzo-soprano as Otello and although Sara Fulgoni tackles the part with heroic commitment, Rossinian tessitura is perhaps not entirely her forte.
It is for tenor Alessandro Luciano as Rodrigo (who looked petrified), a major player in the opera, and he has the top Cs when his rather tight singing voice opens up. Nicky Spence in the lesser role of Iago is an admirable tenorial foil and has considerably more presence.
Kate Ladner turns in a superbly sung, dramatic performance as Desdemona; Carolyn Dobbin also sings particularly well as Emilia (a bigger part than in Verdi); and there is a firmly sung Elmiro from Henry Waddington.
The chorus needs to be much larger than 16 voices, when one or more is not singing a walk-on solo, and an augmented Northern Chamber Orchestra (in the Opera House pit) again offer terrific playing in response to the idiomatic conducting of Stephen Barlow.
As the festival’s artistic director, though, he needs to do something about the visuality of it all.