Verdi’s Otello Comes To The Grand

Posted on January 27, 2013




Until experiencing Verdi’s Otello at The Grand last week I had never watched a live opera. I had an idea of what to expect based around stereotypes and hearsay, though you can never truly say you know what something is all about until you have experienced it for yourself. So after coming across a tweet advertising a Culture Vulture’s blogger event at The Grand, I jumped at the chance to experience my first opera.

Before the show started we got a backstage tour of The Grand. Stood on the stage looking out into what would become a crowded audience only an hour later, I wondered what it felt like to perform to a large crowd hanging on your every word. Since I am not a performer (to be honest the thought fills me with dread) I couldn’t help but feel the nerves climb from my stomach into my throat as I imagined the empty seats filled with expectant faces. Luckily some people are natural born performers – and damn good ones. David Kempster (the actor who plays evil Iago) is one of them. David stopped by for a chat on the stage before being whisked off to change into full costume.

David Kempster

David Kempster talks about his craft

After talking to David I realised that for him there was no other career choice in mind. When asked why he liked opera, like most people in the arts, he said that discovering opera was “destined” for him. Pausing to reveal a smile, he then continued to say he “got the bug from an early age” and since has never looked back. This question often produces cliché after cliché, but there’s something honest about David’s response that somehow refreshes a hackneyed phrase. It’s then I realise it’s the way he’s talking about it, not necessarily what he’s saying.

There’s something fascinating about watching an artist talk about his craft. You can tell the ones who truly love it, breathe it, live it from the moment they start to talk. It’s a small glint in his eyes when asked “why opera?” It’s the flick of a smile between words when defending a villainous character he has come to understand.

At this point, having never heard opera live, I was mystified by the power of the unamplified voice. The Grand Theatre is designed for this type of voice so that artists like David can work with a blank slate. David echoed my thoughts. “There’s something unique about hearing a voice unamplified,” he said, looking out into the sea of empty seats. Perhaps it is this, the ability to impress with just one’s voice, which has attracted David to the world of opera. After all, isn’t it refreshing to go to a show and admire just a voice? It surprised me that a voice could move me emotionally without special effects, auto tuning or gimmicks. Now I can’t understand why a performer would need such junk.

After drinks in the press bar we took our seats and the performance began. Otello, an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Othello, is a heart-breaking story of love, greed, manipulation and tragedy – all the classic ingredients of a true Shakespeare play. In a bid for power and promotion, Iago hatches an evil plan that he hopes will bring down Otello’s favourite, Cassio. As David puts it, Iago is “the architect of Otello’s demise.” Iago plants the seeds of doubt in Otello’s mind, which leads him to believe Cassio is having an affair with his new bride, Desdemona. As the story continues Otello is filled with murderous rage, which as you might expect can only lead to disaster.

I was captivated by the performance. The characters of Iago and Otello in particular experience some tense, thrilling scenes, which literally left me hanging off the edge of my seat. The actors’ unbroken singing and the sounds of the orchestra created a powerful combination. When I looked around the theatre at the glistening eyes and the bodies sat forward in their seats, I could tell I wasn’t the only one immersed in the story. Now I see why opera is such a unique and moving art form.

The performance was brilliant. I had a great time and really appreciated the thought and effort made from Opera North, The Culture Vulture and the lovely people at The Grand for hosting the event


Otello is running at The Grand Theatre, Leeds until 16th February 2013

Posted in: Out and About