West Australian Opera returns with a quintessential operatic experience with Giuseppe Verdi’s 'Otello', a retelling of Shakespeare’s famous tragedy, and considered one of the greatest operatic masterpieces brought to life – as it respects and challenges new and established audiences.
West Australian Opera is a marvel to engage with, especially on an opening night. No matter your experience with the art form, 'Otello' was just enough of an operatic toe-dipping exposure for it to be enjoyed by anyone for the first time.
The production of Verdi’s 'Otello' was performed in Italian, with screens on either side providing a narrative translation. At first, an interesting concept to see in a live performance to acclimatise to, however towards the end of Act One, it became as natural as reading a book.
The vocal prowess from every performer was breathtaking, and a mesmerising feat to watch. Desdemona (Naomi Johns) flourished with a costume change every act, being the Audrey Hepburn of the production, with a songbird soprano – which in her own right – took you through a journey.
Iago (José Carbó) was a very familiar character to watch – and at times stole the show – holding nostalgia in being a queer-coded vaudevillian. Surreptitiously twirling his metaphorical moustache as he whispered acidic nothings into the ears and hearts of the characters, sowing discourse among the company.
Otello and Desdemona are surprisingly hard characters to like, or connect with – either to highlight their toxicity through the talented works of Shakespeare’s writing, or perhaps due to their outdated personifications in the modern world. Their love story mirrors 'Romeo & Juliet' – if they were to later survive, and live an abusive marriage, with Rosalind plotting for their marital and reputational downfall.
Image © Dylan Alcock from West Beach Studio
The set design was the strongest implementation of His Majesty’s Theatre in a long time. The slightly tilted staircase, with an oppressive red cross sown into the timber, perfectly foreshadowed the blood feud and imbalanced thinking that would proceed.
At the centre, a brass statue of a man keeping the world above his shoulders – portraying the Greek god Atlas – foretelling the weight of conviction among the characters and the roles that intersect throughout the opera. 'Otello' was a visual feast, not only with the set design, but with costume as well – with a mixed era flare between the roaring twenties ballroom aesthetic, and militia regalia, the West Australian Opera outdid themselves in repurposing the timeline for Shakespeare’s 'Othello' to be more accessible.
'Otello' was a powerful performance by the West Australian Opera, in collaboration with the talented West Australian Symphony Orchestra, who provided a cinematic edge to the drama, theatricality, and humour unfolding on stage.
Perhaps controversial to say, the operatic experience felt like an elevated musical theatre production – where one is to be enjoyed in your early days of theatre, and the latter to be enjoyed well into your later years. If you’re yet to experience a Shakespearean work, West Australian Opera’s 'Otello' should be your first – a cavalcade performance, with twists, turns, and tumultuous love plots.
What more could you want for a date night?