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22 February, 2022

Otello, Verdi, Sydney Opera House, Sat 19th Feb 2022.

 Otello – Yonghoon Lee

Desdemona – Karah Son

Iago – Marco Vratogna

Cassio – Virgilio Marino

Emilia – Sian Sharp

Roderigo – Hubert Francis

Montano – Andrew Moran

Lodovico – Richard Anderson

Herald – Andrew Williams


Dear Colleagues,

This was a magnificent return to the serious opera house after a plague-ridden period nobody wants repeated.  Harry Kupfer’s steep-stepped production has grown on me over the years.  It was conducted by rising Maestro Andrea Battistoni from Verona. 


For my overseas readers: By isolating from the rest of the world most of Australia avoided the pandemic for over a year.  From May 2020 to June 2021 NSW had either zero or single figure daily Covid cases, mostly in localised clusters associated with foreign arrivals.  Sydney even had an opera season of sorts while overseas houses were closed.  However, from mid-June 2021 we were struck with the delta and then the omicron Covid variants, plunging us in with the rest of the world for another six months. 


By January we were using frequent testing, shorter quarantine periods and a reduction in the severity and duration of the individual infections, especially in younger people were noted.  As a result, authorities recommended a return to normal life, schools reopened, offices, caf├ęs and restaurants, etc were doing some normal business.  Since January a brave opera company has now put on La Boheme, Turandot, Nozze di Figaro and Otello.  Just today, overseas tourists can enter Australia freely for the first time in 2 years!!  25 flights are to land at Sydney airport today alone!  Welcome, World! 


This performance had the benefit of world-renowned tenor Yonghoon Lee who sang the socks of this gigantean role (as he had done in Turandot earlier in the season).  His singing was more nuanced that his hugely declamatory Calaf.  Desdemona was also Korean Karah Son sang with the style and dignity required.  She occasionally had momentary difficulty with long, high legato notes yet never petered out.  As Marilyn Horne once said: “OK, so you got phlegm; get over it!”  Our Iago Marco Vratogna was sufficiently evil both dramatically and vocally.  The duets were thrilling.  As was his Credo.  Cassio was under-cast compared to the substantial voices of the other three principal singers.  The other supporting roles and chorus were all excellent, each managing to perform on a huge staircase the full width of the stage (one remembers Joan Sutherland on a similar perilous staircase in Merry Widow!).  But no bed for the final Kupfer scene was just plain odd. 


The audience wore masks throughout and it was about 75% capacity.  The performance received huge applause for orchestra and at the final curtain.  It was so nice to see life returning to something like normal. 


For my own case it will be very different as I closed our addiction clinic after 38 years last weekend.  I will just see occasional dependency patients in the future and hope to do some research.  I will take in the last few weeks of the Met season in New York in May all being well with travel, viruses, weather events, wars and other global challenges. 


Best wishes to all my patient readers (you must be patient to have got this far!). 


Andrew Byrne ..