|Photo by Ken Howard|
It's hard to understand Sher's thinking in this production. The opera is updated to the 19th century -- why? It only reinforces the idea of this being a non-production because the generic gowns and suits (designed by Catherine Zuber) everyone wears evokes nothing in particular except "in the past." I can understand the decision not to put Otello in blackface, but why did he not bother to characterize Otello at all? There's no sense of who he is. He is not an "other" in Venetian society. He is not a fearsome warrior. He is not a tender lover. He is not a jealous, rage-fueled husband. In this production he's just a guy in a military suit. Was it the acting limitation of Aleksandrs Antonenko? Why did Sher almost completely ignore the deliberate structure of Boito's libretto? Boito split the acts into: Act 1 - public realm, Act 2 private realm, Act 3 private becomes public, and Act 4 private. In this production the plexiglass panels move back and forth aimlessly, without any sense of scenes changing. The setup of the performance was often very much like a concert opera -- singers lined up at the lip of the stage, staring at the conductor, chorus in the back.
The cast and musical performance had some highs (notably Sonya Yoncheva's radiant Desdemona) but nothing so spectacular to merit a new production. Antonenko's voice sounds like it SHOULD have the volume, squillo, and stamina for the punishing title role, But the actual sound is strangulated, monochromatic, doesn't project well, and he yells more than he sings. His interpretation brings no sympathy and his diction is atrocious -- consonants AND vowels are mostly gone. "Un bacio" comes out as "Un baaaa-ooooo." This might be ameliorated if he had any acting chops but he might be a worse actor than the last Otello I saw (Johan Botha) if that's even possible. He balls his fists when he's mad. That's it.
|Photo by Ken Howard|
The best thing of the night (and the only singer to merit a new production) was Sonya Yoncheva's Desdemona. Her large, well-produced, shimmery soprano floated over the 4,000 persona auditorium with an angelic sweetness from the first act love duet to then great Act Three concertato to the final piano in her prayer. Yoncheva's acting wasn't that detailed, but she created a dignified, sympathetic character. This is the third time I've seen Yoncheva (I've also seen her in La Boheme and La Traviata) and I don't know whether it's conscious or unconscious but she's set herself up as a viable foil to the Met's current prima donna Anna Netrebko. Netrebko's extroverted, lusty portrayals and powerhouse voice are huge crowd favorites. Yoncheva is a cooler creature, but no less arresting. Beautiful voice, beautiful woman. Her future seems limitless.
The supporting roles were mixed. Jennifer Johnson Cano was an excellent Emilia. Her voice blended well with Yoncheva's. Dimitri Pittas (Cassio) is one of those younger tenors who already sounds old. Quavery, whiny voice. Maybe I'm spoiled -- my last Cassio was Michael Fabiano. Yannick Nézet-Séguin certainly can create an exciting, brassy stentorian sound from the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra but he didn't show much sensitivity to the struggling Antonenko, who could have benefitted from a conductor less determined to max out the brass section.
This is a new production that won't even take a season or two to look tired and dated. It already looks tired and dated, and it's ... what, three weeks old?