At the San Carlo in Naples, the tenor Jonas Kaufmann ideally plays an Otello with feet of clay facing a warrior Desdemona

It was in the presence of the President of the Italian Republic, Sergio Mattarella, applauded at length by the public, that the premiere ofOthello, by Verdi, at the San Carlo Theater in Naples. A new production, which opens the first real season of Stéphane Lissner, superintendent and artistic director of the Neapolitan opera scene since 2019. A gala evening, with a bunch of personalities – the mayor of Naples, Gaetano Manfredi; the president of the Campania region, Vincenzo De Luca; the prefect of Naples, Claudio Palomba; the president of the Chamber of Deputies, Roberto Fico; the Minister of Education, Patrizio Bianchi -, as well as many nice people in an evening dress and tuxedo under the flashes of the paparazzi. On the set, the heroine of the evening, Desdemona, did not leave to die her military camouflage uniform, a soldier enlisted in a Western army operating in the Middle East, led by Otello.

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The opera directed by Mario Martone opens well with a storm. But no more naval battle between Venetians and Muslims: Otello’s troops are tasked with rescuing migrants in distress in their makeshift boat. The juxtaposition of a maritime video in the background and an undulating device of painted baroque opera canvases judiciously solves the scenic equation, giving the impression that the emergency services are entering half-body in the waves. An apocalypse setting, from which springs, automatic rifle in hand, Jonas Kaufmann’s Otello, red scarf around his neck. The very one he will offer Desdemona as a reward for his bravery and courage, once back to base camp, where we will feast before the love duo under the beautiful starry sky of the desert.

With her warrior allure à la Lara Croft, Desdemona no longer has anything of the submissive and virtuous wife

With her warrior allure à la Lara Croft, Desdemona no longer has anything of the submissive and virtuous wife of a man whose equal she is even in her profession. It is as a modern and independent woman that she succumbs, almost arms in hand, a victim of feminicide. Because the pretty blonde in rangers and cargo pants fights foot by foot the demon of jealousy who transforms the man she loves into a monster. A colossus Otello with feet of clay, manipulated by the diabolical Iago, a narcissistic pervert fed on revenge.

Jonas Kaufmann (seated, facing) in “Otello”, by Verdi, in November 2021, at the San Carlo Theater in Naples (Italy).

In the “Song of the Willow”, this sad lament of abandoned women, she throws with rage the comb holding her hair in a movement of revolt which breaks with the usual resignation of the character. Likewise, a pistol concealed under her pillow, she gives the signal for the deadly confrontation, after – a magnificent moment – that they remained for a long time leaning against either side of a party wall, she awaiting the outburst of violence, dreading it. Only regret, that the director did not push the logic of his character to the end. Promptly disarmed, Desdemona will finally be strangled where we would have wanted a real duel to the death, from which Otello would not have emerged physically unscathed.

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