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A 15th-century storm off the coast of Cyprus is now a 21st-century tsunami in Dresden’s Semperoper. Scantily clad party-goers are tumbled about the stage. A Jeep lies on its side. Horror has hit this package holiday paradise.

Natural and man-made disaster are inexplicably linked in both Shakespeare’s and Verdi’s Otello. Vera Nemirova’s Dresden staging falls just short of the latter category.

Nemirova is unquestionably one of today’s most exciting young German stage directors. Her Dresden Euryanthe in February set the bar so high that half the world was there to see what she could do with Otello. Not much, it transpired.

The tsunami, a promising start, blows itself out, and beers are distributed as Otello appears in the royal box. Stephen Gould is overtaxed as Verdi’s murderous Moor, pinched and flat in the upper registers.

Nemirova’s recent work has shown good ideas and clear execution. But her Otello gets bogged down. Who is this Moorish Venetian commander? Who are his forces? He seems vaguely defined as the owner of a half-demolished block of holiday apartments. Desdemona (Anja Harteros) has saris and servants, and is clearly a local beauty.

In theory Jago is the real hero of this Otello, but Andrzej Dobber, as a dishevelled mafia type, disappoints. Heavy-handed handkerchief symbolism hampers, and Otello’s sudden blacking of his own face, presumably as a sign of madness, merely bemuses. Nemirova falls back on jiving supernumeraries in bikinis, as if eager to avert the boredom her production might provoke.

The apathy spreads to the pit, where the Staatskapelle plays with inaccuracy and shabby intonation. The fault does not seem to lie with the conductor Massimo Zanetti, who brings a refreshingly harsh and explosive edge to the score.

This is a disappointing Otello, with none of the zing it ought to have had. ★★☆☆☆

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