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.


  1. John, thank you. What are you doing awake? You're in England, aren't you?

  2. Not wholly relevant, but did you see the 1983 film "The Dresser"? This clip, courtesy of YouTube, shows Albert Finney absent-mindedly making himself up to play Othello, when he is in fact about to play King Lear. Tom Courtney plays his dresser. The play was written by the former dresser to Sir Donald Wolfit, a scenery-chewer of the Old School, on whom Finney's character is very closely based.

  3. I didn't see the movie, but I've heard of it. That's too funny. Courtenay is wonderful.

    You should be in bed, too, Lapin, and so should I.

  4. Glad you saw a different performance from the critic. Renee Fleming is a great singer. I saw her in concert once. Not only was her singing great, she was very fetching!

  5. How wonderful to undertake 4 nights of opera. And it would be wonderful to hear and see Renée Fleming.
    I have been a little apprehensive as I have booked 2 following nights at the opera in Vienna next month. I would have loved Othello but have always found Britten excruciating. Glad it was otherwise for you. Looking forward to learning about the rest of your visit.

  6. Music has the power to move the soul. It is transcendent.

    Not Verdi for me, Mozart is my main man, but I have very eclectic taste.

  7. I missed most of the broadcast of Otello not to mention all of the broadcast of Peter Grimes. I'm trying to find out out when the Met operas will be on PBS, but so far all I've found out about are Hansel and Gretel, Romeo et Juliette, and Manon Lescaut through the end of April.

  8. Susan, I'm not an opera expert, but our lecturer was, and he admired Guelfi's performance as Iago, too.

    Brian, you will not be sorry about two in a row. You can do anything for two nights. Regarding "Peter Grimes", I had paid my money, so I was looking for the good, and I found lots that was good.

    Doorman-Priest, I love Mozart, too and Bach, and Vivaldi, and lots of others. The most emotionally moving opera that I saw was "Lucia", which is next on the list for a post.

    Allen, I'd love to see "Otello" again on TV. I'm going to watch for it.

  9. If you get a chance to see "The Dresser", don't pass it up. It's a fine movie. It was on the Turner Classic Movies a couple of weeks back. I'm sure they'll repeat it eventually.

  10. Renee Fleming... wow! I saw her a few years back and was grateful to have the chance.

    I love the Met!


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