There’s nothing like a live performance of an opera, especially when you can’t see it. I listened to the Met’s Otello over the Sirius network tonight and thus can’t say anything about Bart Sher’s new production which moved the story to the late 19th century. But judging by the tepid reaction to the production team’s appearance during the curtain calls the audience wasn’t thrilled by it. You can make your own determination of its worth when the opera is telecast in HD October 17.
Verdi had produced no operas during the 16 years that preceded Otello. Having completely mastered this most difficult of art forms, he went mute. When he finally wrote another opera there was uncertainty that the septuagenarian composer would be up to the standard he had earlier set. Verdi’s penultimate opera not only met that standard, it is one of art’s glories.
There are four requirements for Otello to succeed – the three principals and the conductor. Of these four the title role is the hardest to cast and it was here that the Met came up a little short. Aleksandrs Antonenko has the dramatic tenor that Otello demands. His voice is like a hippopotamus. It’s big, but not nimble or agile. And at age 40 he’s well on his way to developing a wobble that will prematurely end his career. Repeated encounters with Otello will finish him off even sooner. Here is his rendition of Otello’s spectacular entrance – Esultate. It shows his strength and weaknesses. Over the past 60+ years I’ve heard only one completely satisfactory Otello – Mario del Monaco. Placido Domingo came very close, but he wasn’t a dramatic tenor. John Vickers was also very good, but he lacked the ringing high notes the part must have.
Zeljko Lucic is one of the better Verdi baritones now active. Iago is well within his comfort zone. Accordingly, he did as well as his large, flexible, but slightly husky voice could do – very good. Also, to his credit, he didn’t laugh at the end of the Credo which was sung with great effect.
The best singing was clearly that of the Bulgarian soprano Sonya Yoncheva. This was her first go at Desdemona. I can’t see how she can get any better than she was this evening. She has previously sung Gilda, Mimi, and Traviata at the Met. But her voice seems ideal for the heavier Verdi roles like Leonora (both of them) and Aida. Hers is a career to watch. She has a rich sound, can shade her tone, and has easy high notes.
This leaves Maestro Nézet-Séguin. He too was doing Otello for the first time. He’s a very good conductor and the Met is lucky to have him for as many performances as they can get out of him considering that he is the music director of three orchestras. In general, he gave a distinguished reading of Verdi’s miraculous score. The were a few spots where he slowed down or speeded up at what seemed to me inappropriate places. I’m sure with a few more performances behind him he will realize all that Verdi put into his notes.
In summary, from an exclusively aural vantage point , this was a good presentation of one of opera’s greatest masterpieces. Its problem was the same that marks any presentation of Otello, there’s rarely even one tenor in the world up to the demands of the title role.
Giuseppe Verdi-Arrigo Boito/William Shakespeare
Emilia………………Jennifer Johnson Cano
Roderigo…………….Chad Shelton [Debut]
Set Designer…………Es Devlin [Debut]
Costume Designer……..Catherine Zuber
Lighting Designer…….Donald Holder
Projection Designer…..Luke Halls [Debut]
Interesting that Vinay sang Iago as well, and both quite well. I’ve only heard Otellos on record, but none have the ring I would like to hear on the high notes. Agree with your comments on Antonenko, I couldn’t finish the clip I found it so painful
Have been a Yoncheva fan for about two years. You have great taste and knowledge about singers, Neil.
Oops. I forgot. I did see Otello in ’64. It was so lackluster it slipped my memory. Pilar Lorengar was wonderful. McCraken and Ludgin totally forgetable.
I agree. Sonya Yoncheva is incredible.