Metropolitan Opera at Lincoln Center – Grand Tier, Seat E28 ($140).
Conductor – Semyon Bychkov; Cassio – Garrett Sorenson, Iago – Carlo Guelfi, Roderigo – Ronald Naldi, Otello – Johan Botha, Desdemona – Renee Fleming, Emiliar – Wendy White.
Story. Iago is bent on revenge after the Moor Otello promotes Cassio instead of him. Cassio gets into a fight and is demoted by Otello, and asks Desdemona to help with getting his job back. Iago uses this to stoke the jealousy in Otello by making this into a case of infidelity. Otello is convinced of Desdemona's guilt because she cannot produce a handkerchief he gave her. As Desdemona prepares to go to bed, Otello strangulates her. Iago's plot is revealed and Otello stabs himself and dies next to Desdemona.
The plot, exploring the dark yet powerful human emotion of jealousy, is a great one. My son, who majored in English at Cornell, says this is his favorite Shakespeare play. We saw another Verdi/Shakespeare opera, Macbeth, recently, and that explores hunger for power. These human emotions are timeless. Another lesson: get out of a relationship as soon as it becomes abusive. In this opera it starts with a slap and ends with murder.
We took the train up because there was fear of more snow that evening. Turned out there was no snow. On our way up, our train was stuck behind a disabled one for an hour, so we missed the first act. We did see part of it in a theater, without subtitles we didn't understand anything (and I didn't read up on the story before we went), except people were fighting with swords.
Our seats were okay, with an unobstructed view of the stage. The sets were quite impressive, with these giant paintings as backdrops for the castle scenes. The lighting was certainly “adequate” most of the time.
As with Macbeth, there were not that many singable tunes in the opera, which is mostly carried along by the plot. The fact that it was a compelling performance would mean the lyrics (or translation thereof) and the acting were good.
Desdemona didn't get to sing much during the first 3 acts, and we thought Fleming was a bit weak in some of the arias. She really shone during Act 4 singing the Willow Song and Ave Maria. High notes, soft voice, and she still managed to soar above the orchestra and captivate the audience. I found the combination of the two songs a bit much, though. You only want to hold the audience's attention for so long in one sitting, and the work might be better served by having Desdemona sing the two arias in two different scenes.
I wonder if there are more Shakespeare plays turned into operas. I saw Hamlet in London a few years back, and it was also enjoyable.
The New York Times review is mixed on Botha, partially attributing the lack of dramatic depth to his weight. The reviewer had reservations about the conductor also.