Wednesday, October 21, 2015


Met Season Opening production sheds new light on the plight of Shakespeare's fallen Moor in Verdi opera

by Dwight Casimere
Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

NEW YORK--The Met Live HD performance of Giuseppe Verdi's OTELLO occurred several week's after the Season Opening Gala Performance of Broadway Tony Award winning director Bartlett Sher's black face-less production, so the controversy over the choice had died down. Therefore, audiences at this week's Live HD performance could simply sit back, relax and enjoy one of the finest renditions of the live cinema-for-opera medium, directed by veteran television Live Cinema Director Gary Halvorson (tv's Two and Half Men, ABC Sports). 
Having seen the production both live at the Met and in the movie theatre, it became apparent how readily Shakespeare's drama lends itself to the medium of Live Cinema.  Set to operatic libretto and orchestration by Guiseppe Verdi, with a set designed by Es Devlin, Costumes by Catherine Zuber, and production design by Luke Halls,  the production seemed to sparkle with renewed vitality when viewed through the dozen or so lenses of Halvorson's cameras and his team of directors. They employed camera angles from every corner of the opera house, from the raptors, to behind stage and used cameras on runners,  like those used to follow runners during the Olympics,  which Halvorson revealed in an interview in a film segment shown during the intermission about his behind-the-scenes camera work.
Met baritone Eric Owens was the superb backstage host and interviewer. His pre-broadcast comments set up the ensuing action  with insightful commentary and he had a brilliant command of the Russian, Serbian and Italian languages in introducing the singers and their characters in the production. His questions during the backstage interviews were well thought out and allowed the singers to elucidate their personal thoughts on the elements of the production. Its notable that the capacity movie-theatre audience listened with rapt attention to all of the backstage commentary and stayed on to watch the behind-the-scenes video on Gary Halverson and his crew's elaborate preparations and execution of  Met Live HD productions.
The use of Halvorson's cameras heightened the drama, especially in the early scenes when the singers are paired off in simultaneous exchanges where key points are made concerning the plot in parenthetic vocal statements. The camera was able to zero in on each of the paired singers, so that you could keep up with the action and the unfolding of Iago's devious plot. A sweeping slow pan of the chorus, meanwhile, made what was otherwise a very static stage setting on the Met stage, appear more mobile and visual join the cinematic setting. 
Aleksandrs Antonenko, with his stentorian voice and robust demeanor, could not have made for a more commanding Otello. His voice literally rang forth above all the others in the ensembles and his acting capabilities seemed light years above the somewhat wooden performance he gave on Opening Night. The fact that he was not in darkened makeup was of little concern, as one got deeper into the layers of the character as it unfolded in his superb portrayal. To tell you the truth, the time I saw Placido Domingo play the role some years ago, I found the getup distracting. Antonenko's appearance, in fact, is not too unlike that of many Moors I observed during my trip to Morocco a few years ago. If he were to walk down a street in Marrakech, he'd blend right in!
On with the rest of the production. The beauteous Sonya Yoncheva gave an intuitive portrayal of Desdemona. As she revealed in her backstage interview with Owens, she wanted to portray her character as a strong woman, who is firm in her conviction that she is innocent of the claims of infidelity engineered by Iago (Zeljko Lucic, in a deliciously villainous performance), and foolishly believed by the vainglorious Otello. Her Ave Maria
The unraveling of Otello's mental state is perfectly built up over the course of the opera as it swells toward its tragic conclusion. Conductor Yannick Nezet-Seguin was masterful in his handling of Verdi's lush, multi-layered score. In other less-skilled hands, the music could have crushed the production under the sheer weight of its complexity. In Nezet-Seguin's capable hands, it was at times dark and forbidding, with flashes of light, that underscored the needless tragedy created by Iago's cunning, feeding on Otello's fragile, twisted ego. His (Iago's)  rueful declaration to the Cypriot's cry, praising the "Lion of Venice' as he stands over an Otello, crumpled by the weight of his encroaching insanity, "Behold The Lion!" is one of the high points of the operatic drama.
If you were already at the original MET LIVE HD cinema cast, it wouldn't hurt to see it again. I certainly plan to. Verdi's Otello, MET LIVE HD, Wednesday, October 21, 6:30 pm local time. Check local theatre listings. Visit or


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