Barbara and I saw *Otello* at the Met on 12/14/18. It’s a Verdi opera based on the Shakespeare tragedy - - I saw it in Chicago many years ago, with Ben Heppner and Renée Fleming, and felt I was ready to see it again. Plus it was starring one of my favorite singers (and my brother Patrick’s all-time favorite), Sonya Yoncheva.
I hadn’t realized when I bought the ticket that it was a) the first performance of the run and b) the Met debut of conductor Gustavo Dudamel, the energetic, telegenic young Venezuelan conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. I didn’t look at the program before the show, and (shame on me) often don’t pay much (if any) attention to who’s conducting when I go to the opera, so I was a little taken aback to hear such a rousing ovation when the he walked into the pit at the start of the show. “Who the hell is this?”
He set the tone right out of the gate, it was crackling with intensity and drama. He seemed to emphasize the mercurial changes of the score, that was interesting to hear. I hope he’ll be back soon, he was very exciting.
Otello was supposed to have been played by Stuart Skelton, an Australian tenor I heard in *Tristan und Isolde* a couple years ago. He was very good in that, so I was looking forward to hearing him again. But he withdrew from our performance and we had Carl Tanner in the role instead. He was very good, he was grabbing his moment and making the most of it.
Željko Lučić played Iago. I’ve heard him quite a few times, and he always gives a committed performance, but I don’t really care for this voice, it’s a little rough-hewn for my taste. Plus, for a villain, it’s so much more satisfying to have him be smooth and silky, not have him growl all the time.
It was luxury casting to have the great bass James Morris in the small role of Lodovico, what a joy to see him on the Met stage, and sounding so good. And Jennifer Johnson Cano played Desdemona’s wing man. She made more out of her role than I would expect, she really grabbed hold of it and gave a performance.
Sonya Yoncheva was the star of the show, she played Otello’s wife, Desdemona. She was more defiant than you often see, that was a nice surprise. What a voice on that woman, she really knocks me out every time.
Barbara and I were annoyed by the production - - it features all these big plastic boxy set pieces with doors in them, some also had stairways. They rolled around on tracks, looking like oversized lucite boxes and really not adding anything to the experience. They played a major role in Act 3, I was rolling my eyes. I think one of the reasons the final act was so good (apart from Verdi writing such extraordinary music) was that the lucite boxes were GONE!
Here's a recording of Yoncheva singing the Willow Song: