Hurry, if you missed the matinee of Otello, make certain you get to the encore of this marvelous performance of Giuseppe Verdi’s second-to-last opera! You’ll miss something quite special if you don’t.
It’s a vocal, visual stunner, this 139th Met performance of the heartrending tragedy based on Shakespeare’s Othello, The Moor of Venice, via the acclaimed libretto by Arrrigo Boito. (Yes, it’s the composer, no operatic slouch on his own. But more of that later.)
A signature part for the beauteous American Super-Diva, Renee Fleming, it showed her off at her very best as the doomed Desdemona. The elegance of her rendition of the famed “Willow Song” and the moving “Ave Maria,” could simply not have been better.
The South African tenor, Johan Botha, tackled the taxing title role with vocal sensitivity and equal vigor when called for. And Falk Struckmann, the bass-baritone from Germany, rendered the nasty role of Iago with diabolical perfection. His “Credo” was evil incarnate, and a vocal triumph.
The three leads were backed up by the young – and undoubtedly destined for a splendid career – Michael Fabiano, as Cassio. The ever loyal Emilia was beautifully performed by the up-and-coming Renee Tatum.
Ever brilliant, the Met’s extraordinary orchestra was under the capable baton of the Russian conductor, Semyon Bychkov. Attention also has to be paid to the chorus, so important in this magnificent late work of Verdi. Everyone did splendidly.
The tale of the Moor, who because of extreme jealousy, (manipulated by the disgruntled Iago,) strangles the innocent Desdemona and then kills himself, has always been one of Shakespeare’s most respected tragedies.
There is a story about how Verdi (1813-1901) at the advanced age of 74 was manipulated into composing this magnificent opera. If you know all about this, you may as well skip the next three paragraphs.
Evidently the great, but temperamental composer, resented the criticism that his Aida (1871) showed that he was imitating Wagner. Verdi decided to retire from operatic creation for the next 12 years, but did gift us with his fabulous Requiem during this period.
He was lured back to opera via a conspiracy that involved his wife and Boito, with his enticing Otello libretto. But the real instigator was the music publisher Giulio Ricordi, for whom Verdi was not only “a cherished genius” but a fantastic meal ticket.
Thank God for Riccordi’s greed. Without it, this innovative opera and the subsequent Fallstaff, (based on Shakespeare’s Merry Wives of Windsor, again with libretto by Boito) might never have seen the light of operatic klieglights. Gecco was right: Greed is good! Sometimes.
On October 5th I had the opportunity to attend the dress rehearsal of this Otello with this exact cast. My seeing the rehearsal at the actual house, so close to the date of the HD transmission, gave me the chance to compare the impact of both experiences. Here are the pros and cons:
Of course, there is nothing like being at the impressive Met itself, with its overall majestic ambiance. The heart races a bit when the conductor enters the pit, the houselights dim, and the gold curtain parts…
Otello opens with the magnificent (and loud) “painting” of a storm threatening the ship that is returning the triumphant Moor to Cyprus. The immense chorus thrills forth. The impressive scene is assisted by strobe lightening and huge clashing from the percussion section. Terrific!
All four acts of this 1994 production have been resplendently staged to enchant the eye, and the story is clarified by the subtitles that at the Met are displayed on the back of the seat in front of you. Great, but if you are using opera glasses to get closer vision of a particular singer, you cannot view both. And even without your using the help of magnification, your eyes have to miss some of the action because the distance between the subtitle and the view of the stage is a bit too large.
Aren’t we lucky that the HD performances avoid any need for opera glasses and have the subtitles placed so close to the action.
Admittedly, the camera picks out what the management chooses for you, which means you sometimes lose some of what is going on in other parts of the stage. But in this Otello, the choices were tremendously helpful.
The camera followed the villainous Iago as he works his heinous manipulations, clarifying the story line distinctly. Close-ups of Fleming allowed this singer to display her superior acting ability. Zeroing in on the amazingly realistic strangulation sequence truly underscored the horror of the tragedy.
Unless you are sitting in an incredibly expensive orchestra seat, some of the subtleties of the performance just are not yours to experience. Well, the HD cameras have you placed in just such a seat -- about the eighth row center. So rejoice, you Live-at-the-Met-in-HD-at-the-Movies spectator. You are getting a fabulous deal!
Here is what some of your neighbors had to say about this Otello:
Vera Herz of Ossining found Fleming’s performance “absolutely beautiful. She is right up there with Tebaldi and TeKanawa, who were such fabulous Desdemonas.” As for the performance of Struckmann’s Iago, “he was disgustingly excellent,” she exclaimed.
William J. Dowling of Bronxville , a criminal Lawyer devoted to all the Arts, who considers opera the apex of all of them, thought this a splendid performance of the great opera. Commenting that he despised some of the recent modern approaches the Met has chosen, he singled out the lascivious Tosca of three season’s ago and last year’s “horrendous” La Traviata.(If you, by chance, remember my reviews, you know that I heartily agreed with him.)
Joan Engel of Ossining called this “one of the best Otellos she has ever seen.” A seasoned opera buff, she praised the production, thought the cast superb, called all the acting (especially that of Iago) “most notable.” Her highest praise was for Fleming “whose rendition of “The Willow Song” and the “Ave Maria” was the best of the many performances of Otello she has attended.” But she takes exception to the way the singers are stopped for light conversation directly they come off the stage. “It is highly intrusive, demeaning and undoubtedly breaks their concentration.”
Catch the encore of Otello at 6:30 PM at WP City Center or Regal NewRoc on Wednesday, Nov.14, 2012. (Since that date is many days post “Sandy,” I sincerely hope everyone who wants to can attend.)