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Opera News - Otello

May 08, 2010

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    May 08, 2010
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    Opera Carolina News

Opera News - Otello

It has been some thirty years since Opera Carolina last produced Otello, so the announcement last spring that Verdi's masterpiece would open this year's Opera Carolina season was doubly welcome. Sadly, economic necessity resulted in a truncated list of offerings from the company this season: OC moved Otello to the final spot in the season's calendar, with only two performances scheduled, as opposed to the four each offered of the box-office stalwarts La Bohème and Carmen. However, judging from the last of the Otello performances (May 8), better late than never.

Opera Carolina's general director, James Meena, decided to evoke the spirit of the work's 1887 premiere by utilizing scenery designed and executed by Villagrosi, a follower of the nineteenth-century Italian designer Ercole Sormani. As Meena explained in his program notes, these painted, forced perspective sets were a deliberate attempt to be "very close to what Verdi and the Milanese audiences … would have seen." This was a worthy goal, but as executed by director Trevore Ross, it contributed to unusually static stage pictures, emphasizing downstage singing positions. Why, for example, did Desdemona sing her "Ave Maria" without once acknowledging the shrine to the Virgin painted on the drop behind her?

Those are minor quibbles, however, since musically the magnificent score was in good hands. Meena, who conducted, captured the sweep and drama of the powerful opening scene as well as the delicacy of the love duet and the poignancy of the last act. The Charlotte Symphony was alert in its support throughout, and the full-strength Opera Carolina chorus responded with vigor. The minor roles were well cast. John Fortson was a sonorous Lodovico as well as an effective Montano, and Martha Bartz and Brian Arreola did all that could be expected as Emilia and Roderigo. Jason Karn was particularly suited to Cassio, cutting a handsome figure and singing well, despite a slight memory lapse in his Act I exchanges with Iago.

However, the success of any production of Otello is dependent on the three major characters, and in this respect the production was well served. Sandra Lopez was a lovely Desdemona, tender and obedient to her lord and master, incredulous in the face of his jealous rage. The sweet timbre of her mid-sized soprano was well suited to the role, despite an occasional touch of slightly uncontrolled vibrato.

Jason Howard was a straightforwardly evil Iago. His dark baritone and sure delivery made the character's machinations hypnotically believable; his "Credo" was a particular musical and vocal highlight. In the role of Otello, Opera Carolina was fortunate to have the services of Carl Tanner. His acting sometimes lacked subtlety, but this was a minor drawback in light of his singing. Tanner displayed ample vocal power and ringing tone in the big moments, such as the opening "Esultate!" and the duet with Iago that ends Act II. Tanner could also summon tenderness: the Act I love duet and the final death scene were equally effective. spacer

Luther Wade
Opera News