Otello lives on in HD

BY RICHARD JOHNSON Observer senior reporter johnsonr@jamaicaobserver.com

Monday, October 29, 2012    

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JUST days after striking Jamaica, Hurricane Sandy is taking aim at New York City and the season at the Metropolitan Opera.

One could not help but draw parallels at Saturday's showing of Verdi's Otello in the second of the Live in HD series at Carib 5 in Kingston.

During one of the behind-the-scenes interviews, Thomas Adés, director of The Tempest — the next in the series — mentioned the irony of Hurricane Sandy and that production.

However, it was all about Otello as Palace Amusement Company took local opera lovers live to the Metropolitan Opera for Verdi's adaptation of Shakespeare's heaping tragedy filled with suspicion, jealousy and vengeance.

Just like the season-opener, L'elisir d'Amore, Otello was another treat for lovers of the genre. The multicultural cast featuring principals South African Johan Botha, Americans Renée Flemming and Michael Fabiano, and German Falk Struckmann, all put in masterful performances to bring this centuries-old work to life.

The plot follows the conniving deeds of Iago (Struckmann), the overlooked army officer who hatches an alleged elaborate plot in order to exact vengeance.

The plot sees Iago informing Army General Otello (Botha) of an extramarital affair between his wife Desdemona (Flemming) and newly promoted officer Cassio (Fabiano).

One cannot help but love the villainous Iago. Struckmann puts in a credible performance and easily earns the performer-of-the-day award with his bass-barritone serving as ammunition for the character's full development.

The way the script allows his to weave a web of deceit and treachery makes for great theatre.

Throughout the backstage interviews, which are a welcome feature of the Live in HD series, the performers are constantly referred to as actors, and not opera singers as is the norm. In Otello, the acting was definitely of a high standard.

Botha's brilliant performance had more to do with his non-verbal communication than his impressive tenor range. His facial expression conveyed the man filled with jealousy and rage, thanks to piercing blue eyes and his heavy-set facial features. The magic of high-definition cinema also brought the perspiration which constantly beaded his forehead all the way from New York to Cross Roads.

Flemming is always on point, and as Desdemona, the hapless wife, she did not disappoint. When the soprano delivered the eagerly anticipated Ave Maria, her clear tones, etched with pain and longing, rang out in Carib 5.

Being a tragedy, there were bodies strewn across the stage by the close of curtain. However, in between, there was nothing but great performances from the cast.

Nothing more can be said of the rich language which Shakespeare crafted for Othello. This has been masterfully adapted by Verdi and one experiences the richness of the period's language, thanks to closed captioning, and is left which a string of memoable quotes.

The Tempest blows onto cinema screens on November 10.





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