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Sunday, April 17, 2016

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Otello

The first new Met production of the 2015-16 season returns.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The green-eyed monster: Iago (Željko Lučić, right) works his spell on Otello
(Aleksandrs Antonenko) in the Met's new production of Otello.Photo by Ken Howard © 2016 The Metropolitan Opera.
Director Bart Sher steps away from the buffa comedies of Rossini and Donizetti to try his hand at Verdi's version of Shakespeare's tragedy. Aleksandrs Antonenko takes on the daunting title role in this new production, which opened the 2015-16 Met season. A review of opening night can be found here on Superconductor. Željko Lučić returns as Iago  and Hibla Gerzmava sings the role of Desdemona.

Otello opens with a series of thunderous, crashing chords and a hero who is on top of the world in his command of the Venetian military forces on the tiny island of Cyprus. Things go from good to bad to worse as his mind is slowly poisoned by his ensign Iago and he becomes convinced that his wife Desdemona  is having an extramarital affair. The opera ends with the hero broken, commiting first murder and then suicide.

Verdi surprised the world with Otello when he was 73 years old, breaking the 15-year silence that followed the premiere of Aida. The opera is one of his most brilliant, complicated scores with a difficult tenor part that lends new meaning to the term "heroic."

Adam Fischer steps onto the podium and takes on the challenge of conducting this sweeping score, which demands detailed accounting from the singers in addition to managing dynamic levels and Verdi's carefully written orchestration.

Otello opened the Met season on Sept. 21. This mid-season revival opens April 20. It features minor casting changes and will be broadcast on WQXR on Saturday, April 23.

Recording Recommendations:
Rome Opera Orchestra and Chorus (RCA, 1955)
Otello: Jon Vickers
Desdemona: Leonie Rysanek
Iago: Tito Gobbi
The late Jon Vickers was one of the definitive interpreters of Otello in the 20th century. Here, the Canadian tenor squares off against the brilliant Tito Gobbi as Iago. A young Leonie Rysanek is in her early prime here. This is an industry standard recording that remains a classic.

Vienna Philharmonic cond. Herbert von Karajan (Decca, 1961)
Otello: Mario del Monaco
Desdemona: Renata Tebaldi
Iago: Aldo Protti
The pluses here are Mario del Monaco, whose mighty Otello roars like a lion and goes out...well like a lion who's been tricked into murdering his wife. He is perfectly captured here in peak form, as is Renata Tebaldi's Desdemona. The opening thunderstorm (complete with room-shaking organ pipes) will set your teeth rattling. The only drawback is the Iago: the adequate (but pallid) Aldo Protti. It's still awesome.

Tickets for Otello are available at MetOpera.Org, by calling (212) 362-6000, or at the box office.

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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.