Saturday, October 6, 2012

Otello Preview 2012-2013

Johan Botha and Renee Fleming reprise their roles in Elijah Moshensky's production of Otello. Jose Cura and Thomas Hampson take on the second run.

The Production
The elegant 1994 production by Elijah Moshinsky returns for its final run. Moshinsky who made his Met debut in 1980 directing Un Ballo in Maschera first mounted this Otello in honor of Placido Domingo's 25th anniversary with the Met. The production was sung by him in the late 90s and then was taken over by other lesser known Otellos who lacked the same vigor that Domingo had. As for the production, it has the same lavish grandeur of a Zeffirelli production. The sets are made up of huge marble pillars, and mythic paintings. There is a huge plaza at the end of the third act and a huge bedroom at the end of the fourth act. It is in all sense the monumental production one expects from Otello. Nevertheless critics have complained about Moshinksy lack of direction and his placement of the chorus, and overwhelming sets. They have also complained about the first scene which they say looks like a construction sight rather than a dock and a castle. Regardless of all the complaints it is a production that presents the action without any superficiality and dumb concepts. It will be the second time this production is recorded and the first live in HD transmission for it.

Johan Botha returns to the title role of Otello. Botha made his Met debut in the title role of Pagliacci as Canio and went on to sing numerous Verdi and Wagner roles. Botha possesses a beautiful lyric and expressive voice that is suitable for the repertoire. His Radames in Aida was heartbreaking and his Siegmund possessed all the tragic qualities of the fallen hero. However having seen these two roles, I was not convinced when I heard his Otello in 2008. I was not present at the performances as I was for these other two roles so it is an unfair comparison. Nevertheless from the radio broadcast, it felt as if he did not have the heft or the power necessary for the demanding role. The orchestra kept overpowering him and the voice just seemed too light for the role. However his Lyric voice allowed him to make some beautiful pianissimo phrases not heard in the role often. He also did not  not rely on shouting as most tenors have done in the past. As for the critics they were not enthusiastic about his interpretation either. They said his singing was too stiff and lacked any dramatic weight. They also criticized him for his acting as his hefty physique limited his possibilities in the role. Four years have passed and while Botha's voice has not changed much he has had more experience with the role. In the end its hard to conclude what kind of Otello Botha will bring this year but we should expect some beautiful singing. Botha will sing his second HD performance.  

Jose Cura brings his acclaimed Otello to the Met for the first time. Cura who made his Met debut in the role of Turiddu in Cavalleria Rusticana in 1999, has not returned frequently. The times he has sung at the Met  have generally been unsuccessful but not really noticed. The last time sang in 2010, he revived the role of Stiffelio in Verdi's lesser known opera. While he sang well his colleague Sondra Radvanovsky stole the show from him. In other instances the same has occurred and as a result he has not been able to build a solid name at the Met. This year may be different as he will sing the second run of Otello, his signature role. As Otello Cura is the complete opposite of Botha. He is physically more agile for the role and his acting is incredible. His voice is a rough one with very little finesse in it. He relies on the harshness and the rawness in the character therefore relying a bit on shouting and emoting. Additionally when Cura sings pianissimo it sounds as if he lacks energy in his singing and struggles to produce a pure sound. Nevertheless Critics have praised his interpretation stating that he has the weight and the musical intelligence for the role. While he may not be my favorite Otello and may have a flawed voice, he is surely a captivating performer that should not be missed.

Renee Fleming reprises her acclaimed Desdemona for the third time at the Met. Having debuted in 1991 as the Countess in Le Nozze di Figaro, Renee Fleming became one the Met's favorite singers. She has sang a vast number of roles to great acclaim including Desdemona. Having heard her in the role and seen the 1995 broadcast now on DVD, Fleming brings a special aura to the role that so few are able to bring today. She is both youthful, frail but at the same time strong and wise. Her acting is exquisite and her singing in this role compares to the great interpreters in history. Critics also agreed as they praised her for her 2008 run alongside Botha. Fleming stole the show as critics applauded her for her rounded tone and her poignant and shimmering beautiful singing. During the willow song and Ave maria she raptured audiences so much that according to critics no one applauded because it was genuinely a holy moment. They also praised her for beautiful high notes and dramatic acting. For most the role of Desdemona was thought to be a stepping stone for Ms. Fleming as many believed that she would sing more Verdi roles and even Puccini. However, Ms. Fleming proved everyone wrong and went into the Handel and Bel Canto repertoire recieving mixed criticism. This year she returns to Verdi and most will be excited to see her come back to one of her best roles. The performances will also mark her eighth appearance in the HD live from the Met series and her second recording of Desdemona.  

Krassimira Stoyanova sings her first Met Desdemona opposite her frequent Otello Jose Cura. Stoyanova made her Met debut in 2001 in La Traviata and has since returned sporadically singing Verdi, Puccini, Bizet and Leoncavallo. This year she brings her fine Desdemona to the Met stage after a huge success in the role last year at Carnegie Hall. Last April I was fortunate to catch the performance led under Riccardo Muti and was thrilled to hear Stoyanova. She possesses a natural lyric voice good for the works of Verdi and Puccini and an outstanding technique. Her pianissmos are warm and her top is solid. As Desdemona she brings out the tragic elements in the role and sings it with beauty warmth and richness. Every phrase is measured and well thought out. In retrospect she is also a perfect Desdemona and one that should not be missed. Therefore if you don't get a ticket for the superstar Fleming, Stoyanova is just as well worth it.

Faulk Strukmann sings the villainous Iago for the first time at the Met. Struckmann made his debut in 1997 in the role of Wozzek to critical acclaim and later returned in the German and French repertoire. He sang his first Italian role two seasons ago previewing his villainous side as Scarpia. He was praised for his imposing characterization and critics went so far as to compare him to the legendary Tito Gobbi. Critics praised him for his ability to reveal a leering, and ogling grotesque characterization. Additionally they stated that Struckmann has the ability to project keen intelligence that makes him all the more chilling. He was also praised for his "ability to give every phrase an evil twist and use the gift tellingly."If he revealed these attribute to the role of Scarpia, I can't wait to see what he does in the more difficult role of Iago. The performances will mark Struckmann's first appearance on HD.

Thomas Hampson sings his second Iago after an incredible role debut in Zurich Opera. Hampson who made his met debut in 1986 as the Count in Le Nozze di Figaro is a singer of intelligence who puts great emphasis on the text. Hampsonwho possesses a lyric voice is not the most adequate singer for the heavy Verdi roles such as Iago.Yet he is a captivating artist who can act the role out so well that one forgets his vocal issues. Last year year he impressed in Macbeth after I had doubted his ability. He sang with so much warmth, and complexity. And when he made his debut in the role of Iago in Zurich, many doubted is ability but critics praised him for projecting the text's insinuation with accuracy and intelligence and for enjoying every nuance that Verdi wrote in the music. Combining last years Macbeth and his first Iago I have no doubt that Hampson will bring the complexity out in  a character that can sometimes be a bit too villainous.

Russian conductor, Semyon Bychkov returns to the Met after a four year absence. Having bowed in 2004 conducting Boris Godunov to great praise one would have expected him to come more frequently. However four years later he made his big return in 2008 conducting Otello. Critics were mixed on him. They stated that his conducting seemed like a work in progress with instances of greatness and then some instances of tentative playing by the orchestra. Some critics were even harsher stating that he was sloppy and his conducting was confused. Four years have passed and one only expects that Bychkov has improved on his interpretation as he leads his first HD performance.

French-Armenian conductor Alain Altinoglu returns to the podium for Otello in the second run of perfomances. He replaces the originally scheduled Placido Domingo. Altinoglu who made his debut in 2010 in Carmen, did not fair well last year as he was compared to the Yannick Nezet-Seguin's interpretation of the piece. Critics said that while his conducting was solid and well paced  he lacked that irresistible sweep that Nezet-Seguin gave in his performances. However such was not the case when he debuted at the Met in Carmen where critics raved and stated that he was very attentive to the singers and led  a stylish performance. This year Altinoglu will have the chance to redeem himself in Otello as he will lead what I believe to be the better of the casts. For more information click on our Faust Preview linked here.

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