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Voices tell the story in 'Otello'

May 07, 2010

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    May 07, 2010
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    Opera Carolina News

Voices tell the story in 'Otello'

Opera Carolina brought out a museum piece Thursday.

I’m not talking about the night’s opera, Verdi’s Otello – though Opera Carolina, come to think of it, had left Otello sitting on the shelves for three decades since last performing it.

No, the antique in question was the set. It belonged to a type that was common until the 1960s or so: flat canvas drops painted to mimic three-dimensional vistas or interiors. This one, by the venerable builder Ercole Sormani, could easily have dated back to the ’60s or earlier, like the Sormani set for Tosca that Opera Carolina used in 2005.

The old-timey set made Opera Carolina’s Otello a throwback to when opera’s visual side got short shrift. So did the stage direction by Trevore Ross. Rarely did the cast go beyond the basics of acting. Rarely did they move far from the footlights. Desdemona, the doomed heroine of Verdi’s Shakespeare-based tragedy, sang her “Ave Maria” without ever, that I could tell, acknowledging the painting of the Virgin Mary behind her. Couldn’t Opera Carolina have found a prie-dieu to put next to it for her to kneel on?

But the way Sandra Lopez sang that “Ave Maria” – and the plaintive “Willow Song” that led into it – painted a picture of its own. Lopez’s voice combined the plaintive edge of the woodwinds, her companions in much of the “Willow Song,” with the throbbing intensity that comes only from the human throat.

Opera Carolina relied on throats to supply what the staging only tamely suggested. In the title role, Carl Tanner made that work. His clarion tones captured the jubilation of Otello the war hero and the desperation of Otello the victim of deceit. He even brought the love duet more lyricism than Lopez, whose strengths did not include delicacy.

While Jason Howard, as Iago, couldn’t match their power, his voice contained enough darkness to show that evil was at work. The other characters drawn into his schemes came across less vividly. The Charlotte Symphony, led by James Meena, captured the broad strokes of the music’s thunder and passion. And when the sound of heartbreak finally broke into Tanner’s trumpet of a voice in the final minutes, that drove the whole story home.

By Steven Brown
The Charlotte Observer

To read the original article, visit the Charlotte Observer.