Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia
Kunde and Agresta as Otello and Desdemona in Valencia
© Tato Baeza 2013
Not many singers have attempted the jump from Rossini's to Verdi's Otello. Gregory Kunde, an incisive tenor with a potent, burnished instrument, had produced an excellent Percy in Donizetti's Anna Bolena in Barcelona, but nobody in Spain knew he had such a leone in his throat and heart until June 1, when he sang Verdi's Otello in Valencia.
Last year, after deciding to try heavier repertoire, Kunde had tackled the role of Énée in Les Troyens at La Scala and sung his first Otello in Venice. At the Palau de les Arts in Valencia, Kunde was a true discovery for local operagoers: he headed a very strong cast in the best Otello to be shown in the last decade in Spain.
It is easy to forget that Otello requires a truly Verdian tenor who can maintain a soft legato and reach high climaxes. Kunde's distinguished delivery and technical savvy allowed him to sail through the long, demanding part up to the exciting end. Both as a singer and as an actor, his Moor was proudly old school. The creamy center of his sound occasionally recalls the young Domingo, but Kunde's delivery and slight accent are reminiscent of Vickers, as is the way he plays the passionate action hero: from about thirty meters away, the whites of Kunde's eyes shone with hurt rage, as he believably represented an intelligent, respected leader trapped by Iago's plot.
Kunde's Iago was a perfect match for him. Spanish baritone Carlos Álvarez, completely recovered from a well-publicized throat malady, acted and sang with masterful conviction. Until he opened his mouth, Álvarez was almost unrecognizable: with his long hair, white face and the movements of an oily schemer, Álvarez looked like Sméagol before he becomes Gollum in the film version of Lord of the Rings. He was one of the scariest Iagos I can remember. And the ample, virile Verdian voice of the last decade was all there: one could almost feel a sigh of relief and gratitude from the eighteenth row of the Palau de les Arts, traditionally reserved for the critics.
The third pleasant surprise of a perfect evening was Maria Agresta's full-voiced, brave-girl-with-a-cause version of Desdemona. She looked absolutely shocked and hurt when she finally understood that Otello believed her to be Cassio's lover. Her reaction was more moral indignation than fear. From that moral core of the role came a wonderful willow song, sad yet defiant, with a melting, pure legato.
Valencia's artistic director, Helga Schmidt, made a very good decision to use a trimmed down budget to do fewer operas (this season held just under half the list of the shiny days of 2007, and only one in the Summer Festival of the Mediterranean) but to present them with the utmost care and concern for quality work. Davide Livermore's simple but effective and emotionally fulfilling production was an example of this. Video projections behind, around and in the middle of the action were masterfully planned and executed, and the movements of the central round platform danced to the music to a thrilling effect.
The last hero of this great operatic experience was Zubin Mehta, who, despite the dire economic times, has never lost faith in the Valencia project, the site of his and La Fura dels Baus's legendary Ring of 2007–09. Mehta plunged head-first into Verdi's masterpiece, demonstrating that even with almost a third of the original Valencia players gone, this is still the best opera orchestra in Spain.
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