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Opera North’s Otello at Leeds Grand Theatre

Ronald Samm as Otello and David Kempster as Iago. Photo by Clive Barda

Ronald Samm as Otello and David Kempster as Iago. Photo by Clive Barda

Well, lately I’ve been a pretty shoddy blogger. Since I changed jobs, I find that working evenings and weekends is incredibly prohibitive when it comes to covering the kind of things I love to write about. There’s also a temptation to relish my few evenings in, especially over winter, by shutting myself in the flat with the heating on full and a stack of books. But, when Emma, aka the Culture Vulture tweeted about the event she was running in conjunction with Opera North for bloggers to see their production of Otello, which was on my night off, I forced myself to sign up.

I’ve dabbled in opera before, having  attended a night of opera duets, which I loved, and a new opera that I wasn’t so keen on. This was my first full length, ‘classic’ opera, and if I’m honest I completely loved it. Everyone I spoke from the PR at Opera North to the lady I was sat next to for the performance said it was the perfect opera for a beginner and I agree. Because I knew the story, I didn’t have to focus too much on the subtitles (which can be distracting, and sometimes read a little strangely after translation) and I could enjoy the music, which was gorgeous.

The opening act is huge, with about thirty performers on stage, blending their voices to create a wall of sound that’s beautifully controlled. The second and third acts see Iago capitalising on every possible opportunity to act upon his scheme to drive Othello crazy and usurp his power. They’re full of intense solos that perfectly capture the character’s mood, as well as a few confrontations that were acted as well as they were sang. The fourth and final act was a complete contrast to the first, featuring Desdemona, alone in her marital bed, singing a heartbreaking song that her mother’s servant used to sing after she was abandoned by her lover, praying, and then being confronted and killed by Otello. These final scenes were an absolute highlight and so moving that I did find myself blinking really hard.

At the time I felt I’d enjoyed the performance, but not exactly been wowed by it. As time has progressed, though, I’ve found myself dwelling on it a lot, and realised I really loved the experience. I loved the way the story was compressed but still full of emotion and narrative, and the gorgeous staging really helped. I actually thought this was more accessible than watching a Shakespeare play, thanks to the plain English subtitles and streamlined plot. I’d liken it to a good film adaptation of a book – tailored perfectly to the medium, taking the key scenes that will work best in opera and making the most of them.

I’d absolutely recommend Otello to anyone who thinks they might be interested, as I had a fantastic time and can’t wait for my next Opera North production. I’m thinking it might be their upcoming double bill of Dido and Aeneas/La Voix Humaine which looks fab!

Here are opinions from a few other of the attendees from the blogger event, if you fancy reading a few different views:

@junrussell: ‘It started with a bang and ended in tears.’

@emglobetrotter: ‘I felt myself literally on the edge of my seat’

@craftyblueberry: ‘would I go to the opera again? I’m quite surprised to find that yes, I would’

@jon_cronshaw: ‘something really needs to be done about the shushers and the tutters’

@leedsjourno: ‘I never fail to be amazed by the three-dimensional nature of live opera’

@jamesagrayson: ‘opera and theatre organisations need to look at attracting younger faces’

@salliex: ‘I found it inaccessible and outdated’

@littletinykate: ‘To enjoy opera, you’ve got to like the music and I just don’t, really’

@theotleyguide: ‘too much bitter scheming, death and anguish and not enough sweetness’

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