Royal Opera House 2021-22 Review: Otello
“The performance that is more responsible than any other for making this revival stand out is Christopher Maltman’s as Iago. It is not simply the strength of his full, broad and aesthetically pleasing baritone that makes it so powerful, but the way in which his scheming and malevolence are brought out through such acutely observed expressions and gestures.”
“Christopher Maltman dominates the stage and has the vocal stamina and subtlety the role demands. His Credo shocks, as it must, but Maltman’s prowess as a recitalist means he weaves the web of insinuation around Otello irresistibly too.”
“Vocally and dramatically, it was the darkness that prevailed in this performance. Making his role debut as Iago, baritone Christopher Maltman gave a remarkable potent performance, communicating Iago’s evil with disturbing persuasiveness. Shakespeare’s Iago may tell Roderigo, ‘I am not what I am’, but this Iago truly does wear his heart upon his sleeve ‘[f]or daws to peck at’. His voice pumped with oozing blackness and almost psychotic self-belief, Maltman was a Machiavellian ‘smooth operator’ from the first, his suave energy driving the Act 1 drinking song and effortlessly, and nonchantly, turning carousing to conflict. The baritone’s vocal acting was superb. Details such as the pacing and colour of his guileful observation, ‘I like not that …’, which triggers Otello’s suspicion, and the floating head voice with which Cassio’s dream-drenched infelicities were falsely recalled – “Sweet Desdemona! Let us hide our loves. Let us be wary! I am quite bathed in heavenly ecstasy!” – and which dripped with deceit, revealed both Iago and his vocal creator as masterly, manipulative thespians. “
“…an even more striking performance, however, is taken by British baritone Christopher Maltman as Iago.
In the early days of composing this opera, Verdi wanted to call it ‘Iago’; I suspect he might have done so if he had envisaged the power and venom Maltman brings to the role.
The long final scene in the first act between Maltman and Thomas was as intense and enthralling a display of the power of opera as one could hope for. After hearing this, I staggered out for the interval feeling emotionally drained.”
“Christopher Maltman was the (ig)noble exception. As Iago, the villain of the piece who manipulates the downfall of his general, he sang – and acted – everyone else off the stage. Warner has Iago appear at the very start, dashing a plaster face mask to the ground to unleash the fierce opening storm. Maltman dominated proceedings thereon, the audience witness to his machinations, from cajolling Cassio into taking one drink too many in Iago’s matey brindisi to his plotting during the grand ensemble in Act 3 where he gets in the ear of both Otello and Roderigo. It was like watching the inner workings of a clock, the springs and cogs visible as Iago’s brain ticked and his eyes flashed and flickered. And when he drops the mask, metaphorically, in his Credo, his oily malevolence chilled.”
“Verdi nearly named the opera for its antagonist – Christopher Maltman made the case for calling it “Iago” crystal clear, with the outstanding vocal performance of the night. Maltman… does not want for sheer power nor a varied color palette. The more brusque, sharp-elbowed character of the voice works perfectly with Verdi’s angular, stop-start vocal writing for Iago, which musically wrong-foots us. Maltman has a demonic quality that can either be expressed in steely, naked power through his top notes – see the climax of Act three, and a captivating ‘Credo’ – or the malicious light-footedness of his chromatic, falling figures in the drinking scene.”