Thoughts on Otello

December 1, 1999

Otello is considered by many to be one of Verdi's masterpieces. Maybe so, but it, like everything he wrote, needs all the help it can get from the singers, and the Tuesday Nov. 23, 1999 performance at the Metropolitan Opera was sorely lacking in anything resembling singers.

Vladimir Bogachov, Gabriela Benackova, and Sergei Leiferkus were apparently paid to sing. They should have refused their paycheck, so lousy were their performances. Rarely have I heard such a rotten performance. In fact, rotten does not even come close to describing this mess. Bogachov, one of the leather-throat Russians, displayed a worn voice. And he was short. It was hemorrhoidal singing for the ages. Benackova brought her worn voice too, and it was so wobbly it gave Jell-O a run for its money. And Leiferkus' wooly, mediocre baritone was no match for what Verdi wrote. And if they were not bad enough, Charles Anthony was in the cast as Rodrigo, belching a note or two through his left nostril. It must have been painful for him; it certainly sounded that way.

The chorus and orchestra must have been replacements sent in from some high school. They too should have refused paychecks. Mark Elder tried valiantly to infuse some life - any life - into the proceedings but nothing he did could have saved this performance. I fled after Act II, so I was spared hearing Benackova wobble her way through the arias in the last act, except I would have cheered when Otello strangled her. I wanted to do that in Act I.    P13

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