Opening of Otello at SF Opera

SF Opera's Otello, photo by Cory Weaver * Notes * 
San Francisco Opera's last production of the year, Otello, opened this afternoon. Maestro Luisotti had the orchestra sounding richly fluent. The English horn, bassoon, and bass were particularly lovely. The brass instruments also had some good moments, though when they all played together there sometimes was a buzzing quality to the sound. The chorus sounded cohesive and forceful.

The production is perhaps deceptively simple, with a serviceable, three-tiered set designed by John Gunter. Various elements were employed to artfully transform the space as necessary, including Duane Schuler's lighting, not to mention the use of fire. It was a shame that much of the set was obscured if one happened to be too far back in the balcony.

Renée Tatum was a sympathetic Emilia, she was wonderful in the last act, her voice filled with anger and despair. Beau Gibson (Cassio) was plaintive, but his higher register was slightly quiet and strained. Marco Vratogna was brutish as Iago, at times growling. He could also be sickeningly sycophantic, in short, a fine villain. Vratogna was overwhelmed by the orchestra a few times, and was not as powerful as Eric Halfvarson (Lodovico). Zvetelina Vassileva's Desdemona was agreeable enough, though perhaps it would have been nicer had she not pulled at the back of her gown whilst her back was to the audience in Act III. She did sound very pretty in the last act, and tragic as well. Johan Botha proved to have the ability to sound sweet, especially in the duet with Vassileva that ends the first act. He has a couple of notes in the top of his tessitura that do not have the ease of the rest of his voice. However, he does have a great deal of volume that he is able to control quite beautifully.

* Tattling * 
The audience was middling, we had a rough start in which someone's watch alarm just kept going off in Acts I and II. There was the loud sound of velcro being unfastened. There was tittering when the supertitles read "Acts 3 & 4" rather than the translation of the text being sung. Worst of all was the light applause after Desdemona went to bed, the clapping muffled the sound of the bass.

Otello at LA Opera

Laotello* Notes *
A Los Angeles Opera co-production of Verdi's Otello with Opéra de Monte-Carlo and Teatro Regio di Parma opened yesterday at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. The production, directed by John Cox and designed by Johan Engels, involved three boxes, and thus instantly reminded me of the Macbeth lately at San Francisco Opera. Fortunately, no one was chained to any of the boxes, and they were not noisily shoved around. However, the set was a bit boring, despite how much activity took place, people moving in and out with furnishings. Otello is to knock over a bench at the end of Act II, presumably in anger, instead, the singer looked poised and ready to push the bench over at the right moment, because someone had asked him to. Generally the choreography seemed poorly motivated, except for the fight scene in Act I. The costumes included many turbans and leather coats, Emilia's costume was notably unflattering, her black outfit stuck out for no particular reason in Act II, when the chorus all wore light grey, beige, or white.

Cristina Gallardo-Domâs was unable to sing Desdemona because of an unspecified infection, and they flew in Elena Evseeva from New York yesterday morning to replace her. Evseeva sang well considering this, though she looked uncomfortable. She was a bit loud and off-balance with the other singers, her diction was poor, her voice cracked a few times, but she also had some celestial moments. In the title role, Ian Storey did not have the most impressive debut, though he did look heroic enough, and he was always audible. The higher part of his register sounds constrained and has too much vibrato, he had one particularly false note in Act II when he was singing to Iago (Mark Delavan). Delavan was the highlight of the evening and I am looking forward to hearing him as Wotan in San Francisco this summer. Some of his lower notes were not as resonant as they could be, perhaps, but for the most part his voice is strong and his dramatic sense quite sound. Next to Eric Halfvarson (Lodovico), Delavan's voice seems less heavy and booming, the contrast was effective. I found Ning Liang strangely shrill as Emilia, a sensation that rarely occurs for me in hearing mezzos. Tenor Derek Taylor (Cassio) sounded sweet, but was underpowered.

For the most part, James Conlon had a good handle on the orchestra, and they sounded more together than usual. The horns sounded off key in Act III.  There were problems synchronizing the singers with the orchestra, the chorus was off in Act I, and at points, the ensemble in Act III was complete chaos.

* Tattling *
The pre-opera interview of James Conlon was delayed, as he was speaking to Evseeva. Conlon gave a good overview of Verdi and his Shakespeare operas, and mentioned that nothing ever happened in Wagner's operas in comparison. The bells sounded before he could give a plug about
Recovered Voices, and he joked that we shouldn't go anywhere as the performance could not start without him.

Before the performance, a couple of men stepped over me to get to their seats, and they high-fived each other over their girlfriends. They spoke a bit too much during the music, though the three people between us did dampen the sound so they were easy to ignore. What was more difficult to block out was the person in either Y or X 1 of the Orchestra Ring who insisted on crumpling his or her plastic bag during the last two acts.

Welsh National Opera's 2008-2009 Season

September 19- October 11 2008: Otello
September 26- October 9 2008: Il Barbiere di Siviglia
February 7-28 2008: Le Nozze di Figaro
October 8-10 2008: Jenůfa
February 12-27 2009: L'Elisir d'Amore
February 24-26 2009: Salomé
May 13- June 4 2009: The Queen of Spades
May 18- June 6 2009: La Bohème
June 2 2009: Mitridate, Re Di Ponte

Rebecca Evans is has her role debut as the Countess in Le Nozze, and is also singing Mimi in Bohème. Nuccia Focile sings the title role of Jenůfa and Dimitri Pittas sings Nemorino in L'Elisir.

Press Release | Official Site

Circling all round the sun

Die Entführung aus dem Serail again on Sunday afternoon and Otello again with Tuesday evening. I was struck by how different the former opera's set looks up close and how consistent and monolithic the latter one's set was even when immediate.

The delicate projections used on the palace in Die Entführung aus dem Serail were lost on me in the dress circle, but from up close they were lovely. I decided on Sunday that I could hear Entführung at least ten times in a row and not tire of this lively music.

The choreography and staging for Otello seemed a bit more absurd close at hand, the two times Otello pushed Desdemona to the ground, the two times he fell down stairs, and the dropping of both scimitar and dagger down stairs. All somewhat much taken together.

Uccidere non voglio l'anima tua.

A production owned by the Washington Opera of Verdi's Otello opened at San Francisco Opera last Wednesday. Tenor Ben Heppner was to sing the titular role, but withdrew earlier in the year. Consequently, the part is now being shared by Jon Fredric West and Timothy Mussard. West's voice is not particularly stunning. West sounded cold especially next to baritone Sergei Leiferkus' fiery Iago. Patricia Racette was an adequate Desdemona, her voice is neither sweet nor passionate, but has a watery quality that is neither here nor there.

The sets were gorgeous and included beautiful arches devised to look like grey stone. The costumes were what one would expect, mostly Renaissance Venetian in character, with some of the chorus in Orientalist garb.

The choreography was carried off well, there was much swooning and Desdemona was thrown to the ground a few times by Otello, and these movements were staged nicely. Catherine Cook as Emilia seemed as though she were on the verge of a seizure even from the dress circle. Her movements were too big and sharp.

A nice production, but not inspired. Maybe I simply do not like Verdi as well as Mozart or Händel.