Director's Cut #3

October 2, 1999 - The Metropolitan Opera
Otello - music by Giuseppe Verdi; libretto by Arrigo Boïto

  The first time I saw Plácido Domingo perform live in my admittedly young opera-going life was the Saturday matinee when the current Otello was new and under the baton of Valery Gergiev.  I climbed to the top of the Family Circle, found my place in standing room -- also a first -- and settled in for my first Otello.  There is no way that listening to recordings can prepare you for the visceral impact of hearing that opening chord live.  One gesture from the maestro and the mighty forces of nature were unleashed.  There are few moments that can compare. 

  Before, my opera-going was inquisitive, experimental, but after experiencing that burst of sonic fury I was hooked.  Verdi’s genius, the neurotic frenzy of Gergiev’s handling of the score, the seething life of Elijah Moshinsky’s production, and the brutal humanity of Domingo’s Otello combined for an unforgettable afternoon.  My love of Wagner and Mozart notwithstanding, I believe Otello is as close to perfection, from beginning to end, as we may expect an opera to be.  It is the greatest opera ever.  Period.

  So, last Saturday afternoon, when my neighbor offered a ticket for the season premiere, I was thrilled by the unexpected opportunity to see Otello twice in the space of two weeks. (I’ll go again on the 12th.)  Before curtain, Joseph Volpe announced that Domingo was at the tail end of a cold and requesting the audience’s understanding.  A few vocal problems were evident, but Saturday night’s performance left no doubt in my mind that Otello is Domingo’s greatest role.  Here is the work of a mature interpretive artist building an incandescent performance of carefully chosen details.  His understanding of the complexities of this role continues to grow and, once again, I believe I’ve seen him at his peak. Drawn first within Iago’s reach, then into his trap, this Otello’s flaws drive him far beyond Iago’s reach to a realm of chilling despair and isolation.  Never merely dazzling with empty effect, he eloquently conveys the ugliness of suffering and the tenderness of love.

  The rest of the cast provided strong, if not equally stellar performances.  As Desdemona, Barbara Frittoli brought a surprisingly large, warm voice and magnificent pianissimo singing to an understanding of the role that is not yet fully realized.  Desdemona is a tough role to flesh out.  Verdi and Boïto offer only the barest hints of Shakespeare’s strong-willed adventuress.  Her pure character is the unstained field on which Iago’s envy and Otello’s jealousy are played out.  While Frittoli captures the surface innocence, she has not yet penetrated to Desdemona’s core of integrity and strength.  Still, I agree with many others that she is a soprano to watch.  James Morris’s Iago, a career soldier carrying an enormous, malignant chip on his shoulder, has grown more secure.  Parts of the role lie too high for him, but he has the musicianship and artistry to integrate these vocal shortcomings into a fully coherent character.  Rather rough hewn, this characterization contrasts nicely with the dashing, privileged Cassio of Kurt Streit.  Streit plays the role in an affable manner.  His youthful good looks and bright tenor add credence to the quickness with which Otello’s suspicions are aroused.

  As strong as the principals are, it’s frustrating that the details of Moshinsky’s staging are not realized in this revival.  When first seen, the opening scenes were a marvelously constructed chaos; throngs of people variously engaged in the business of recovering from the brutality of storm and battle.  A turbulent sea of individual concerns -- destinies shaped by accidental combinations of station and location.  Saturday night it seemed to me that the chorus and supers might just as well be on risers.  No longer comprised of individuals, this crowd functioned as a single, mindless entity.  There are touches that still work, such as choreography that shows the world through the increasingly drunken eyes of Cassio:  the careering and reeling during the Brindisi ever more pronounced.  It’s shame that the Met, a repertory house, is not able to better maintain the integrity of its productions.  Only the most stellar of casting can overcome the obstacles of inadequate rehearsal.

  Although the women’s chorus continues to trouble my ears, the men sound as good as ever, and James Levine led his band in a thoughtful, deeply felt reading of the score.

  TOP of PAGE  
Website Design by:
Want your own website? Talk to me!