By: David Sheward
Barlett Sher’s new production of Verdi’s Otello for the Metropolitan Opera begins with a bang. Lightning strikes and Luke Halls’ vivid video projections depict a violent storm at sea as Otello’s ship battles the elements making for Cyprus and his fateful deception with the duplicitous Iago. But this dynamic opening is followed by static staging with the huge chorus standing nearly motionless as Aleksandrs Antonecko in the title role stolidly holds forth. It takes quite a while for the production to regain its momentum, thanks largely to Zeljko Lucic’s powerful Iago and Sonya Yoncheva’s magnificently sung Desdemona.
Antonenko does create a stirring presence in the later acts as the Moor is caught in the grip of uncertain jealousy. His tenor is largely strongly supported, though there were a few wobbles, but his acting does not match the unwavering intensity of Lucic or the impassioned fluidity of Yoncheva’s rich soprano tones. Sher has chosen not to have his lead in dark make-up, thus eliminating Shakespeare’s racial dimension and diminishing the character’s alienation in an all-white society (There have fascinating expressions of the play’s racial politics such a production starring Patrick Stewart in the title role with all the other characters played by African-Americans.)
Es Devlin’s set design also does not add to the tension. A series of transparent structures glide through a 19th-century seaport, supposedly reflecting the inner turmoil of the characters. Apart from one fascinating sequence as Otello eavesdrops on Iago and Cassio (a capable Dmitri Pattas), the see-through set pieces are not utilized to their fullest potential. Fortunately, Donald Holden’s awe-inspiring lighting does provide subtle commentary as in a climactic Act III confrontation between the Moor and the visiting dignitaries of Venice. A dazzling sunset erupts as the full extent of Otello’s irrational behavior is revealed. A stunning moment in a vocally arresting, but dramatically uneven production.
Sept. 21-May 6. Metropolitan Opera at Lincoln Center, 66th St. and Broadway, NYC. Repertory schedule. Running time: three hours including intermission; $27-$460; (212) 362-6000 or www.metopera.org.
Photography: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera
Originally Published on October 19, 2015 in ArtsinNY.com
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