lunes, septiembre 07, 2015

Verdi´s “Otello” at the Argentino: a big challenge


            Giuseppe Verdi´s "Otello" is a towering masterpiece and a major challenge for any opera house. Its title role is the most difficult in Italian opera, for it requires a truly exceptional type of voice, a genuine dramatic tenor, capable of scaling the heights, of acting with his voice, of giving baritonal depth to the centre and the lows of his register.

There are only a very few per generation, and that explains why this opera is gingerly handled by the world´s houses. With much greater psychological depth than Siegfried but with similar vocal requirements, Otello is a plum of a part but an extremely hard one to cast.

            The Colón has since 1950 given us  prime interpreters of the jealous Moor: Mario Del Monaco (1950), Ramón Vinay (1958), Jon Vickers (1963), Plácido Domingo (1981) and José Cura (1999); there were others not quite so distinguished. 

            Of course the Teatro Argentino hasn´t had the means to obtain such starry protagonists. Nevertheless, one must mention that the old Argentino was inaugurated in 1890 precisely with this great opera.  Liborio Simonella in 1990 was the last protagonist.

            "Otello" was created by Verdi on an interesting libretto by Arrigo Boito. Verdi´s last opera had been "Aida" in 1871 and many thought there wouldn´t be another. In fact,  16 years would elapse before he finished "Otello" in 1887.

            Shakespeare had always been a special literary enthusiasm for Verdi, as witnessed by his two versions of "Macbeth". And the great opportunity lost: Verdi thought for a while that he would write an opera on "King Lear"; it could have been a marvel.

            But "Otello" is just that: a score of immense resource and inspiration and a drama of almost unbearable impact. A curious matter: Shakespeare´s "Othello" occurs in Venice and Cyprus; Rossini´s opera only in Venice, and Verdi´s happens in Cyprus!

             Some reflexions may be worthwhile. Othello is a Moor, and in Shakespeare´s time it was wrongly believed that they were black and savage, so, as there was strong discrimination in Venice against them, it was a great honor to be the warrior that defended them in Cyprus against the Turks, quite a tribute to his courage and leadership.

            But he is also a psychopath, and also he can´t quite believe his luck that Desdemona ("ill-fated soul" in Greek), the beautiful innocent blonde Venetian girl, is in love with him with total sensuality. Iago is a villain of Machiavellian skills full of apparent bonhomie and he knows Othello´s  Achilles´ heel; on the basis of flimsy evidence Othello will call her a whore and kill her; he will recover his noble side in self-inflicted death. And a final point: is there another example of lack of feminine intuition comparable to Desdemona? For she insists on rehabilitating Cassio when it´s obvious that his very name infuriates her husband. 

            The Chilean José Azocar took on the title part. He started poorly, with low volume and a tremolo, but he gradually found a much better vocal form. He knows the part well; however, he lacks presence and charisma, essential in this part, and the voice is only serviceable for the requirements.

            The best singer was undoubtedly Fabián Veloz as Iago, the only true young Verdian baritone we have. Although physically too weighty, the voice is first-rate, only lacking some volume in the big moments, and his vocal inflexions are right.

            I was a bit disappointed with Paula Almerares, the local credit (she´s platense): she sang reasonably well but the volume was too low in several passages; and was it she or the conductor that decided on interminably long repeated "Salce" ("willow") in her Fourth Act aria?

            Emilia is a thankless but important role, for she rebels at the last moment against her husband Iago and denounces Othello as Desdemona´s murderer: Mariana Carnovali was firm and interesting as actress and singer. Sergio Spina  avoided his usual exaggeration and was believable as the young captain Cassio.

            All the smaller parts were well taken except for the weak Rodrigo of Maximiliano Agatiello: Carlos Esquivel (the ambassador Ludovico), Mario De Salvo (Montano) and Felipe Carelli (Herald). There were two casts, I saw the first.

            Except for the slow tempi of Desdemona´s big scene and a too prolonged silence in Iago´s crucial Credo, I found Carlos Vieu an admirable conductor with strong command. The orchestra was reasonably expert save for some trumpet bits and the bad tuning of basses at Othello´s entry in the final act. As usual, the Choir was very convincing (Hernán Sánchez Arteaga), and the Children´s choir was nice (Mónica Dagorret).

            The stage designs of Enrique Bordolini are so determinant in this production that I wonder whether it was his idea or the producer´s -Pablo Maritano- to give us a very similar image to Shakespeare´s own Globe Theatre. Bordolini is an excellent technician, and the massive structure is impressive , although two-tiered, not three- tiered, as the Globe is in its modern reconstruction.

            It works well for the big choral scenes, and Maritano showed imagination in his handling of all the singers, though both a small stage with masked artists and the parts of the "Globe" on wheels were moved too many times. Sofía Di Nunzio did a good job with the abundant period costumes (blessedly the staging respected time and place) and the fine lighting was by Bordolini.

For Buenos Aires Herald 

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