Verdi’s thrilling tragedy Otello shines in a classic example of magnificence on stage at the Met.
Back for a second run this season, with the earlier visit including a Met Live in HD screening, audiences are again being treated to spectacular sets, excellent acting and gorgeous singing from a massive Met-sized cast.
Elijah Moshinsky’s 1994 staging features towering sets and sumptuous costumes that serve the story as much as they please the eye. Costumes by Peter J. Hall (Opera Australia’s La Traviata) are reliably magnificent. Created in the Zeffirelli traditional/realistic/more-is-more style, the scenic design of Michael Yeargan (South Pacific) features grand turrets and columns that are constant but varied each scene for different locations with a neatly unified look. Particularly effective is the opening scene on the battle ramparts, in which the company are thrust well downstage as they watch the sea battle taking place over the audience’s heads. Stirring, dynamic playing from the Met Orchestra and flashing lighting effects complete the excitement of act one, scene one.
French conductor Alain Altinoglu brings out the full colour, passion and majesty in the music all night, drawing a particularly lustrous performance from the brass. Chorus singing, as prepared by Donald Palumbo, is an absolute highlight of the evening, with rich harmonies bettered only by incredibly tight dynamics. The highly evocative simple beauty of “Dove guardi splendono raggi” is a choral standout, complemented by live guitar players on stage.
In a performance that is equal parts towering and cleverly underplayed, Thomas Hampson delivers stellar work that has the audience cheering the villain. The role of Iago could easily descend into scenery-chewing madness, but Hampson’s controls and focus lead to a nuanced, compelling characterisation in which the wretched man’s evil logic seems so real to him that the audience are practically on his side as he wreaks havoc with the lives of the noble lead couple. Sitting perfectly in his register, the role of Iago is sung by Hampson with deceptive ease. The love between performer and audience is palpable, with both ending the night supremely satisfied.
Bulgarian soprano Krassimira Stoyanova is a rather exquisite Desdemona, neatly balancing the maturity needed to play the role with the girlish, feminine beauty of the ill-fated heroine. Stoyanova harnesses the power of her voice so as to be in complete command during the more delicate, pianissimo passages, creating a vulnerable and endearing portrayal overall. Her final pair of arias, “Piangea cantando nell’erma landa” and “Ave Maria” are quite divine, with the audience well and truly under Stoyanova’s spell by this stage.
Jose Cura, looking every inch the burly Moor, is in fine voice as Otello. An excellent scene and duet partner for Hampson and Stoyanova, Cura’s work exudes an extra shine due to the chemistry between the three stars. While it is Cura who has the title character, it is Hampson’s outstanding work that places him at the forefront of the production. Fortunately Cura has the good sense, and the good grace, to complement Hampson rather than attempt to outshine him.
Jennifer Johnson Cano is a lovely Emilia, singing with sweetness and effectively capturing the woman’s horror at her involvement in Iago’s vile plots. Strong support, and further excellent character work, comes from Alexey Dolgov as innocent Cassio and Eduado Valdes as the red-blooded Roderigo.
A wonderful night at the Met, fully deserving of the line spoken at each Live in HD presentation: “Nothing compares with the thrill of seeing opera live on stage at the Met.”
This performance on Saturday 30 April 2013 was the final performance of Otello for the season.
Photos: Simon Parris