As is often the case with our screening Gatherings, we were a small but mighty group in Alhambra on Wednesday. But those who attend these events always have a great time, and it’s a good chance to hang out, hear some great singing and meet a few new people. This week’s outing for the Met’s ‘Otello‘ was no exception.
- The fight scene in Act I was complex, chaotic and extremely well choreographed — so much so that when fight director B.H. Barry revealed during the intermission interviews that it actually wasn’t dangerous, it was a significant letdown.
- Tenor Michael Fabiano‘s voice sailed over everything from the start, with a bright, clear sound that is fresh and promising. This relative youngster came to fame through his win at the Met Auditions a few years ago (an experience chronicled in the lauded documentary, The Audition), and his already active international career: This season he’s slated for Dresden, Seattle, Kansas City, Oslo, and appearing with the San Francisco Symphony in May, singing Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte under Michael Tilson Thomas.
- The orchestra, led by the dynamic force of conductor Semyon Bychkov, was superb. One of our attendees pointed out that their excellence was a particular achievement in this piece, as Verdi’s orchestration is spare enough to leave the players quite exposed. But if they flinched, we didn’t hear it.
- The set and costumes were both lush and gorgeous. The Moorish-inspired graphic patterns, used sparingly but beautifully on Otello’s Act I robe, were a nice touch. Desdemona’s Act 4 robe (pictured right) was lovely, as well — all salmon and floral velvet, cut with some kimono influences. (The Met’s gift shop managers should be thinking about reproductions of this one!)
- The acting from Iago (Falk Struckmann) and Desdemona (Renee Fleming) were particularly fine, the bookends of evil and innocence in this heartwrenching tragedy. The New York Post particularly liked Struckmann’s performance, and we can see why: he made the tortured soul come to life, irredeemable but vibrating in all three dimensions.
- No one does the “Willow Song” or Ave Maria like Fleming. Although she’s 30 or so years older than her character, her voice overshadowed any visual distraction: she looked absolutely radiant, and the reminders that she was playing a very young girl (“this hand has known no age, no sorrow”) were relatively few. vocally she is in the full bloom of womanly maturity, without apparent decline: her voice is more than supple enough to reflect every shade of meaning. Gorgeous.
- Renée Tatum is wonderful as Emilia: rather than the hapless victim of her wicked husband (Iago), or the reformed accomplice, she plays a powerful personality, well-matched to the drive and charisma the villain. Her portrayal leaves room for the question of what brought the two of them together in the first place. She creates a character who is smart, principled and ready to fight for a just cause — this is just the chica you want on your side when your husband goes nuts.
- Emcee Sondra Radvanovsky explained at the top of the show that Johan Botha (Otello) was appearing in this broadcast after missing a full three performances due to his battle with a very bad cold. From note 1, however, you wouldn’t have guessed it. (Let’s hear it for getting enough rest!) His acting wasn’t quite so consistent — often powerful, sometimes almost startlingly frenzied — but Otello’s tender epiphany in Act 4, realizing that his murdered wife was innocent after all, was genuinely heartbreaking. Clever murder choreography, too: he appears to hold Desdemona up off of the bed as he strangles her, allowing her to struggle and kick, fighting for her life, until she finally rolls off the bed and flops dramatically onto the floor. It works, and it can’t have been easy to pull off.
Something to look forward to:
One of the intermission interviews put the spotlight on Thomas Adès, whose LePage-directed adaptation of another Shakespeare play, The Tempest, aired live earlier this month to fine reviews. They showed us a clip from the broadcast, featuring Alek Shrader (another veteran of The Audition, who got raves last season in LA Opera‘s Albert Herring), mezzo Isabel Leonard, and Simon Keenlyside, playing an apparently betatted Prospero. (Don’t worry — it’s actually a skin-fitting sweater.) It looks like a beautiful production, and we look forward to the encore broadcast on Wednesday, 11/28. (Click here for theaters and ticket information.)
Mark your calendars:
Our next Gathering for an opera screening is Wednesday, February 6, for Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda, which is a premiere for the Met. We’ll meet again at our favorite theater in Alhambra — it’s fairly central to our overall membership, which stretches far and wide, parking is free and easy, and there’s plentiful food in the area, before and after. (It’s also not as crowded as some locations, making everything easier.) If this location doesn’t work for you, but would be willing to gather a group elsewhere, let us know where you’re headed — we’ll offer it as an alternative on the event page.
See you soon!
UPDATED: The date for the next opera screening has been corrected.