Monday, March 17, 2008

The Opera - Part II - "Otello"

Verdi's "Otello", with Renée Fleming, of the gorgeous voice, was one of the major lures for me to bite and schedule the Smithsonian opera program. The opera schedule seemed made for me, with the exception of "Peter Grimes", which turned out to be a wonderfully pleasant surprise.

Renée Fleming was as beautiful in appearance as her voice was beautiful. She looked lovely. Her voice is incredible, full, rich, smooth, sweet, and seemingly effortless. Of course, I know that it's not effortless, but that's how it seems when the sound comes forth. Her poignant portrayal of the loving, good, and loyal Desdemona was quite moving.

Johan Botha, as Otello, is a rotund man, which, in this case, reinforces for us his image of himself as unworthy of the good and beautiful Desdemona. I'm told that singing the role of Otello is incredibly difficult, and Botha made it through the opera with flying colors, seeming as fresh at the end of the opera as at the beginning. His voice left a bit to be desired, and his acting even more. I wanted more power in his voice and acting. More's the pity that he was outperformed by both Fleming and Guelfi (as Iago), although I will give him points for stamina.

On the other hand, Carlo Guelfi, as Iago, was magnificent in voice and in acting. His singing was powerful, as was his stage presence. The air was electric when he was on stage. As the scheming, malevolant deceiver, his performance was outstanding. I part company with the reviewer in the NYT on Iago, but he saw a different performance than I. Perhaps Guelfi was better the second time around. Wendy White was excellent as Emilia, and both Ronald Naldi and Garrett Sorenson were strong in the parts of Roderigo and Cassio.

Of course, I love the lyrical and beautiful music of the opera. "Otello" is thought by many to be Verdi's greatest opera. The libretto follows Shakespeare's drama fairly closely, with the exception that certain parts of the play are omitted.

My hope to hear Renée Fleming live was realized, and what a joy it was! Fortunately, our seats were fairly close to the stage. I had seen pictures of Fleming, and I knew that she was beautiful, but to see her and hear her in real life was a pleasure that I'll never forget.

Conductor - Semyon Bychkov
Montano - Charles Taylor
Cassio - Garrett Sorenson
Iago - Carlo Guelfi
Roderigo - Ronald Naldi
Otello - Johan Botha
Desdemona - Renée Fleming
Emilia - Wendy White
A herald - David Won
Lodovico - Kristinn Sigmundsson

Picture of the two principals from the New York Times.