Florida Grand Opera:  Otello

November 2000

Florida Grand Opera, in Miami, opened its sixtieth season with Otello on November 15, 2000. (Four performances in Ft. Lauderdale preceded the Miami performances; usually they follow Miami but in this case, due to a scheduling conflict, the Lauderdale performances came first.) I attended the first three of the Miami performances, on Nov. 15, Nov. 18 and Nov. 21.

Miami's opera productions are always very sane and sensible. No modern euro-trash productions will ever play here, lest they ruffle the ultraconservative feathers of the old money-bags who pay through the nose to keep this group afloat, and pay they do. So much so that a new state-of-the-art opera theater complex is presently being built in Miami to replace Dade County Auditorium, the venerable old dump that the company now uses. This is quite an accomplishment for arts-starved Miami. Therefore, a rock is a rock, a tree is a tree, and when the libretto calls for a bed, lo and behold, one sees a real live bed-- sheets, pillows and all. No rolling around on a bare floor here. The sets were well done and very representative of the opera's location:  in this case, 15th century Cyprus, and they look good; the audience usually applauded as the curtain rose on each act. Miami's productions remind me of the sane productions Lyric Opera of Chicago used to put on, before they took a dive off the deep end with their approach of the-more-modern-and-ugly-the-better.

The orchestra and chorus are also well above the level that one might think Miami would have. The band plays well, with some sweet string tone and a wind section that is really pretty good. The trumpets remain a problem as they do in almost every opera orchestra save Bayreuth and Vienna, and there were occasional burps from them, but it wasn't critical.

The singers were generally very good, and three of them were terrific:   Emily Magee as Desdemona (replacing Carla Maria Izzo who inexplicably could not wrangle a visa to get out of Italy - one wonders what the poor dear did), John McVeigh as Cassio, and Angela Horn as Emilia. All three are younger singers, with excellent voices, and with good techniques that allow them to do first-rate work. Hearing these excellent voices, one concludes that maybe the art of singing isn't dead after all.

Emily Magee in particular was spectacular. Desdemona is custom made for her voice and she sang it beautifully -- Bel Canto singing is no idle epithet to her work, and her solid technical training really shows (I wish so many other voices I hear possessed the same thing). The voice is all in one line, from top to bottom, and has a body and sheen to it like dark red wine. It has matured and has grown since I last heard her as Eva. I was reminded of early Tebaldi (but without Tebaldi's hootiness). Her top voice is radiant and she gave us some exquisite pianissimi. It is amazing how softly Verdi wanted much of Otello to be played and sung, and it is the only score I know of in which the composer indicated that desire with five ppppp's along with numerous indications for soft singing or playing. She turned the "Salce" into a sort of mad scene. This piece -- one of Verdi's best creations -- can be incredibly dull and boring when the soprano just stands like a lump and sings it, but she, wrapped in a long flowing dressing gown, with an incredible head (wig) of auburn hair draped down her back, moved seemingly in a trance around the set and appeared to be coming in and out of reality, conveying Desdemona's desperate emotional conflicts. It was well-conceived. The "Salce"s are marked "come una voce lontana," and Magee observed that correctly. Her work is excellent and the Met sorely needs a singer of this caliber.

Both McVeigh and Horn did excellent jobs as well. McVeigh has a nice round sound and the voice is well focused, and he acts well -- a wonderful, budding lyric tenor in the making. (I recently heard another - Matthew Polenzani as the Steuermann - in the Met's recent Flying Dutchman broadcast.) Horn also has a first-rate instrument and is probably a soprano, or could be, but it was nice to hear Emilia sung for a change, rather than shrieked by some over-the-hill house mezzo.

Vladimir Bogochov was Otello. He is one of the few tenors who seem to be singing Otello these days. I heard him in New York in this role, in what turned out to be one of the most dismal performances of Otello I ever hope to hear (read my review of that performance), and while he gets through the score, some of it isn't very pretty. He is at his best in the quieter sections of the role, but when he enlarges the sound for more volume, a large wobble takes over. One needed to grab the arm rest to avoid being thrown from the seat. Richard Paul Fink was Iago and he too sings at his best in quieter sections. Otherwise he tends to bark and bellow somewhat, but he does a good job with this great role and conveyed clearly his hatred for Otello. The audience pretended to "boo" him as the bad guy during his curtain calls but he was clearly cheered for his excellent portrayal.

Steven Mercurio, fresh from that abominable Andrea Bocelli "Statue of Liberty Concert," led beautifully paced performances, and unlike that Bocelli event, in which Sarah Brightman as one of the participants sang the "O Lovely Moon" aria through her left nostril, one didn't need to keep a barf-bag handy, as one did for that concert. He managed to bring out a number of inner instrumental lines that conductors often overlook in the large orchestral canvas that Verdi painted for this terrific score. The performance on Nov. 18 was very spirited and exciting, and it reminded me of Toscanini's fleet-footed rendition, though one might conclude it was a bit rushed. I like him immensely though, and the orchestra and singers apparently did too.

All in all, I was thrilled to be able to enjoy these live opera performances in Miami from beginning to end, and not flee in disgust as I usually do, and thrilled to hear Emily Magee on her native turf for a change, and in repertoire other than Wagner, and I hope this is the first of many opportunities to hear this exciting and talented young singer.     P13

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Copyright:  © 2000 Parsifal13

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