Otello, Glyndebourne

It's Hall or nothing for the Moor

Anyone still wondering why the Kirov Opera were given such a rough ride during their disastrous Verdi season should get themselves down to Glyndebourne to experience first-hand what happens when a seasoned theatre director – Sir Peter Hall – and a fine cast willing to explore, to question, to use their heads as well as their larynxes, get to grips with a seasoned text. Opera as grown-up theatre is what happens. Theatre that thrills not on account of its "effects" or vocal fireworks – though heaven knows there are plenty of those on display – but rather on account of its understanding.

Hall's staging of Verdi's Otello is, on the surface of it, a solid, well-crafted, well-designed (John Gunter), well-cast exposition of a great piece. And yet it is more, much more than that. Underpinning everything is this burning desire to uncover the reasons why things are said and done. We call it subtext. There's a lot to be said for it.

Barely a week ago, the Kirov tackled the self-same opera and in a production of incomprehensible pretension and silliness, a handful of "star" performers went through the motions of being "operatic" without ever really understanding who they were or how they might relate to each other. Emotions were worn like achievement medals. Actions were meaningless.

Imagine, then, the impact of coming from that to a production in which every line of text – and the reasons for it – were taken account of. Notwithstanding the period update to Napoleonic times – a period where the emotions were as well-trussed as the clothes – Hall's staging may look traditional but it's as fresh and unhackneyed and powerful as any I've seen.

At the heart of it is Iago. "An honest man is a paltry actor," he says. Anthony Michaels-Moore is a terrific actor and a damn fine singer, too. His Iago is lethal because he's charming. You don't see so much as a flicker of the wickedness until he is alone. And even then, his malignancy is offset by his physical nonchalance. Lounging back in Otello's chair, his feet up on the desk, he smugly concludes his credo, certain in the belief that life's a bitch and then you die. Dog will eat dog. And after death – nothing.

The ensuing scene with Otello has tremendous tension, Iago constantly watching his prey but careful not to be seen to be watching. In Act III, he literally pulls his victim together at the point of imminent collapse. Heaven forfend that anything should compromise the dénouement of his deception: the arrival of Cassio (the excellent Kurt Streit) with that handkerchief. God really is in the detail of this production.

David Rendall is probably giving the performance of his life as Otello. Time and again, his authority is cruelly undermined by his vulnerability. He really conveys that, not just physically but in his singing. The middle of his voice may now be showing signs of wear and tear, but here's an Otello who doesn't live only for the big notes, who doesn't fudge the difficulties – like the rapt ascents of the love duet, the final line, "Venus is aglow", delivered pianissimo for a change, in his most tender head voice. His Desdemona is Susan Chilcott, in whom we have an international star in the making. Together, they make each phrase of that love duet so precious as to dramatically heighten the explicit brutality to come. There's a brilliant stroke from Hall in the final scene, where Otello's hands reach towards the throat of the sleeping Desdemona only to be halted by the music underscoring their first kiss. For a moment or two, we glimpse once more the tenderness of what might have been.

Conductor Richard Farnes could teach the Kirov's Valery Gergiev a thing or two about how to pace this piece. From the moment that the heavens open and Glyndebourne's small but wonderfully incisive chorus signal the return of their conquering hero, this, their first Otello, is a gripping and memorable occasion.

To 25 August (01273 813813)

Arts and Entertainment
The new Fondation Louis Vuitton in the Jardin d'Acclimatation in Paris
architecture

Arts and Entertainment
Richard E Grant as Simon Bricker and Elizabeth McGovern as Cora, Countess of Grantham
Downton

Arts and Entertainment
Lynda Bellingham stars in her last Oxo advert with on-screen husband Michael Redfern

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
News
Owen said he finds films boring but Tom Hanks managed to hold his attention in Forrest Gump
arts
Arts and Entertainment
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
Music Album is set to enter UK top 40 at lowest chart position in 30 years
Arts and Entertainment
The Michael McIntyre Chat Show airs its first episode on Monday 10 March 2014
Comedy
Arts and Entertainment

Review

These heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North
books'The Narrow Road to the Deep North' sees the writer become the third Australian to win the accolade
Arts and Entertainment
New diva of drama: Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Daenerys Targaryen, played by Emilia Clarke, faces new problems

Sek, k'athjilari! (That’s “yes, definitely” to non-native speakers).

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Polly Morgan

art
Arts and Entertainment
The kid: (from left) Oona, Geraldine, Charlie and Eugene Chaplin

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Banksy image in Folkestone before it was vandalised

art
Arts and Entertainment

Review: Series 5, episode 4 Downton Abbey
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

    Salisbury ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities

    The city is home to one of the four surviving copies of the Magna Carta, along with the world’s oldest mechanical clock
    Let's talk about loss

    We need to talk about loss

    Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
    Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

    'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

    If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
    James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
    Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

    Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

    Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
    Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

    Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

    Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
    How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

    How to dress with authority

    Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
    New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

    New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

    'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
    Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

    Tim Minchin interview

    For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
    Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
    Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

    Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

    Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album