Like every year, two new opera productions were presented at Les Chorégies d'Orange 2014, Nabucco and Otello [2 shows each], and one of the shows was broadcast on national TV broadcast - Otello on France2, August 5 2014.
The response was more than disappointing -- only 3.5% viewers tuned in to see the show. Such a huge dive in ratings is a big surprise and one could be tempted to conclude that opera has never been so unpopular in France. I believe the reasons for this flop lie elsewhere: (1) More opera on TV these days made the annual TV opera evening from Orange much less compelling than it used to be in the past. (2) After so many truly dreadful productions broadcast from Orange people are just tired of stale, uninspiring, boring shows [even for a typical conservative opera aficionado, the Orange shows are unexciting].
Musically, however, the quality is often high. This year the main attraction was Roberto Alagna who was making his role debut as Otello, and since I like this opera (one of 4 Verdi opera that I really like) I counted myself among 3.5% of the total TV viewers who chose to see the show.
Alagna has no vocal roughness for the role but he has the lyric qualities that emphasize the emotional dimension of Otello. Contrary to the usual way the helden-tenors interpret this role, Roberto actually SINGS without barking any verse. I admired his courage to take this huge role, and to prove so many critics wrong -- critics who a priori judged this Otello as a bad career choice for Roberto.
As expected, Alagna used his magnificent interpretative skills and sculpted a lyric Otello, vocally much more convincing than scenically. Helped by Inva Mula (superbly sung Desdemona) and Seng-Hyoun Ko (terrific Iago) they actually made the evening a musical treat.
Staging was between bad and plain awful. The singers/actors were mostly left to "act on their own", the costumes and decor seemed like borrowed from a Zeffirelli show in Verona (Che orrore!), no concept, no idea... [two commendable productions of this opera can be seen at Deutsche in Berlin (Andreas Kriegenburg) and in Frankfurt (Johannes Erath)]. Myung Whun Chung was good as ever, and his Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France was at their excellent level.
So, if you like Otello opera, it is definitely worth your couple of hours [listen - you don't need to watch! ;)] Here is the YT video: