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Monday July 23, 2012

From The Arts Desk

Desdemona, Barbican Hall
By: Peter Culshaw

Peter Sellars has a talent for controversy, from his early days when he was the director who brought you Così fan tutte set in a diner on Cape Cod, Don Giovanni as a cocaine-snorting, Big Mac-eating slum thug, and Figaro getting married in Trump Tower. At his best, in John Adams’s Nixon in China, Saariaho’s L’amour du loin, or his Teodora at Glyndebourne, the results have been some of the freshest and most inspiring stagings of new music seen in recent times. Anyone who has met him knows he is a brilliant polymath, extremely charming and charismatic, even if many hate his haircut.

His critics have a point that given half a chance he will shoehorn his liberal politics into a piece, however anachronistically. Mozart, according to Sellars’ readings of his operas, was a political revolutionary (no, he wasn’t, say most Mozart scholars). Osvaldo Golijov was bemused to find American GIs from the Iraq war jammed into his Lorca opera Ainadamar.

In this production, we get a new take on Othello, inspired by the thinnest of pretexts. In the original play there is one mention of Desdemona’s nurse Barbary, which was the name for North Africa in Shakespeare’s time, which meant she may have been African. From that we can surmise that Desdemona was taught African songs and stories as a child, one reason she was drawn to Othello, the Moor, when they met.

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