Opera Theatre, Sydney Opera House – Seat Circle L25 (A$135).
Simon Hewett – conductor; Dennis O'Neill – Otello, Cheryl Barker – Desdemona, Jonaathan Summers – Iago, Kanen Breen – Cassio, Jaqueline Dark – Emilia, Andrew Brunsdon – Roderigo.
Story. See previous blog.
I had the choice of picking either Otello or Lucia di Lammermoor to see today. I picked Otello because it was a matinee and Ruth didn't want to stay up late for the evening show. I like the performance I saw at the Met also, so wouldn't mind seeing it again. Also we were late for that performance and missed the first act. This knowing full well the opera is not quite singable and the drama is the element that carries the performance along. In addition to Ruth and Steven, Ling and Wally also saw the opera with me.
I was disappointed at tonight's performance. It wasn't so much it was a bad performance, but rather it didn't succeed at any of the elements that make a performance great.
First, the whole performance felt disjointed. The “dialog”, the music, the acting, they all seemed to move from element to element without much continuity. I felt this way from five minutes into the show, and the feeling remained till the end. My experience at the Met was a compelling story propelled along by a great sense of doom and urgency.
The staging for Act I was okay. They used many steps as both the deck of a ship and the square where the fight between Cassio and Roderigo took place. It got monotonous when they used it for Act II, Act III, and then Act IV! More ridiculous than minimalist. Staging is part of what makes an opera enjoyable, but evidently the stage manager wasn't aware of that. People were dressed in non-period specific costumes. The brown uniforms worn by the soldiers remind me of Nazis, which probably isn't the intention of the designer. It's a matter of debate whether one should “modernize” these works, and I am a traditionalist when it comes to this matter.
Otello traditionally is painted with a black face to show his Moorish heritage. This wasn't done at today's performance. Probably political correctness carried to an extreme. I am Chinese, and I wasn't at all offended at Domingo being portrayed (and made up) as Chinese in the First Emperor. I am sure there are few people as sensitive as the Chinese ...
I do not know the singers, so didn't know what to expect. Desdemona seemed only capable of reaching the higher notes by belting them out. Even though I “enjoyed” the Willow Song and Ave Maria, I wish she had whispered them rather than shouted them (well, she wasn't that bad). Nonetheless, perhaps to have the same expectations of Cheryl Barker as Renee Fleming is unfair – to Fleming. Otello's voice was quite weak, and he was a bit on the stocky side. Don Jose of Carmen was another Opera Australia person that was a bit on the heavy side – do we have a pattern here? Anyway, Otello seemed to manage the stairs without a lot of difficulty, good for him.
The orchestra played reasonably well, but there wasn't much drama to the music, a real pity for “unsingable” operas.
I am quite amazed at how different the levels of performance is between a production by the Met and one by Opera Australia. Something that seems to come out with ease from the Met appears to be very difficult to piece together by a lesser company, even though the story is by Shakespeare and the music is by Verdi, both acknowledged masters in their genres.
I bought a program for AUD 15 since there were 5 of us, against my "principle" and better judgment. There was very little additional information in it. It does contain one article contrasting how Verdi and Shakespeare treated the different characters, worthy of a college paper. As I suspected, most of the pages were advertisements.
The Sydney Morning Herald gave the opera a raving review. (I hate to sound snobbish) Perhaps the reviewer, Peter McCallum, should go out more often.