COC’s Otello Visually Stunning but a bit Wanting

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  • Singers 85 %
  • Conductor 90 %
  • Orchestra 90 %
  • Chorus 90 %
  • Staging 85 %
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The Canadian Opera Company closes its 2018-19 season with Verdi’s Otello. A former slave, Otello is now captain of the Venetian fleet and the new governor of Cyprus. When Iago, Otello’s trusted advisor, is passed over for a promotion, he plots to destroy Otello by turning him against his friends and his beloved wife, Desdemona. Preying on Otello’s insecurities, Iago plants suspicions about Desdemona’s fidelity. Consumed by paranoia and blind rage, Otello strangles her and — upon learning about her innocence — kills himself.

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The star of the night was Canadian baritone Gerald Finley who gave an engaging presence as Iago. His voice was brilliant and the singing was solid throughout. Although his acting in the first half was a bit too tame to be convincing as a scheming villain, he turned his evilness up a few notches in the second half when his malicious plot was coming to fruition.

(l-r) Gerald Finley as Iago and Russell Thomas as Otello. Photo: Michael Cooper

The supporting cast featured three talented young Canadians: tenor Andrew Haji ‘s Cassio has a honeyed tone that complemented his smooth phrasing; tenor Owen McCausland ‘s Roderigo has the sweet lyrical sound of a young man in secret yearning; and mezzo-soprano Carolyn Sproule as Emilia has a rich warm timbre.

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(l-r) Andrew Haji as Cassio and Gerald Finley as Iago. Photo: Michael Cooper

The opera opened with a delightful showcase of the COC Chorus, which sang gloriously throughout the opera under the preparation of Chorus Master Sandra Horst. COC Music Director Johannes Debus deftly conducted the COC Orchestra through the intricate passages, which was especially demanding for the strings. Adam Silverman’s dramatic lighting effects deserve special mention. The strategic casting of shadows added to the ominous feeling in the opera.


American tenor Russell Thomas stars in the title role. In Acts I and II, he sounded slightly strained in the mid-range, and his voice lacked the intensity that befits his strong character. His voice was often overpowered during his duets with Iago and Desdemona. Thankfully things improved in Acts III and IV, his voice showed more colour as he poured out emotions of fury and desperation, sounding best when he reached the high notes.

Tamara Wilson as Desdemona. Photo: Michael Cooper

American soprano Tamara Wilson was a fine Desdemona. Her creamy voice was rich and versatile. She effortlessly alternated between the joy of a new bride and the anguish of a scorned wife. Her profound grief was palpable as she sang her evening prayers before her fateful end.

Otello has some of Verdi’s most lush music and this production is visually stunning, but leaves one wanting for more intense and compelling vocals from the leads.

Otello Russell Thomas
Iago Gerald Finley
Desdemona Tamara Wilson
Cassio Andrew Haji
Emilia Carolyn Sproule
Roderigo Owen McCausland
Lodovico Önay Köse
Montano / Herald Brandon Cedel
Conductor Johannes Debus
Director David Alden
Associate Director Ian Rutherford
Choreographer Maxine Braham
Set & Costume Designer Jon Morrell
Original Lighting Designer Adam Silverman
Revival Lighting Designer Andrew Cutbush
Chorus Master Sandra Horst

This production premiered at the English National Opera in 2014, and was originally created as a co-production between English National Opera, Royal Swedish Opera, and Teatro Real Madrid. The COC production of Verdi’s Otello runs until May 21, 2019 at the Four Season Centre for the Performing Arts, Toronto.


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