Along w/ Tosca's "And before him, all Rome trembled", this line by Iago at
the end of the third act in Otello is perhaps the operatic line that most
chillingly exposes the pathetic helplessness of someone once seemingly
powerful. Well, *Tosca* is next week. This Saturday (3/14) I attended
the Washington Opera's performance of *Otello* at the Kennedy Center.
It was conducted by Placido Domingo. Otello was sung by Jose Luca.
(He alternates w/ Ian Denolfo, who will have sung in three of the eight
performances.) Desdemona was scheduled to be sung by Daniela Dessi, who
found herself compelled to cancel at short notice and was replaced by
Veronica Villarroel. Iago was sung by Justino Diaz, Cassio, by Corey
Evan Rotz, Emilia, by Elizabeth Bishop, and Roderigo, by Robert Baker.
As I always go out of my way to point out, *Otello* is, along w/ *Tristan*
and *Don Giovanni* one of my three "must have" operas. From the tumultuous
opening chords and storm music to the pitiful "baccio" at the conclusion,
there isn't a moment in the opera that isn't spellbinding. And my eager
anticipation for the evening was not disappointed.
As a holder of a single ticket in the premium orchestra section, I
occasionally find myself with interesting seat companions. Once it was
a grand daughter of Jussi Bjoerling. (I wish I could milk that encounter
the way some Internet contributors are able to exploit their meetings w/
prominent or interesting people. We just chatted. She noted that her
father had come to America because it was unthinkable for a Bjoerling
not to be a singer or musician in Finland. There wasn't much else.)
This time, my neighbor wasn't anyone w/ a name I recognized. But she
was knowledgeable about opera. She had a ticket for the Washington
Opera's other *Otello* performance w/ Denolfo, and had attended many
other performances of the opera in Washington, NY, and elsewhere. She
travels all over the country to attend Opera, and will miss the Baltimore
*Tannhaeuser* to attend an opera series in Sarasota. She could rattle off
past singers of major and minor roles with a reassuring casualness that
kept me from being embarrassed at my unfamiliarity w/ many of the names
she dropped. I had a lot of fun.
My assessment of the performance, FWIW, is that the first two acts were
fine and the last two, electrifying. Diaz alone appeared disappointing.
His rendition of Iago's Credo seemed to lack any real bite. Some of the
time he appeared to be shouting his lines rather than singing them. (Cura
also worked emotion into his singing, but it was always singing.) Iago's
conversations w/ Emilia to get her to give him Desdemona's handkerchief,
was almost totally drowned out by Otello and Desdemona in their quarrel,
and the sinister duet of Otello and Iago at the end of the act had all the
venom of the *Pearl Fishers* duet. But these flaws were compensated for by
passages like the opening storm scene, the Brindisi, the love duet, and the
various choral scenes.
Then came the third act, w/ the confrontation over the handkerchief,
the arrival of the Venetian ambassador, the ensuing "crowd scene" right
after Otello strikes Desdemona in public, in which each major character is
reflecting on the frightful incident, while Iago scuttle's back and forth,
urging Otello to wreak his vengeance on Desdemona and enlisting Roderigo
to do away with Cassio, while Desdemona, heartbroken and utterly stricken,
sings her bitter anguish, with the chorus expressing its sympathy and
dismay. Most of this last capsulation is from Basil De Pinto's analysis of
the opera in "The Washington Opera" magazine, which I paraphrased to point
out that this extraordinarily complex scene was magnificently presented.
As the crowd disperses and Desdemona is also driven away, Otello falls to
the floor writhing in an apparent fit, and to the background choruses of
praise to Otello, Iago, ends the act w/ his "Behold the Lion of Venice".
The raging, frenzied, third act was followed by the tender, aching
last act. Desdemona's "Willow" song, followed by the "Ave Maria" was the
only time I recall that this remarkably disciplined audience burst into
applause. My neighbor's appreciation for Villarroel was grudging; she
claimed that she had pitch problems. I didn't notice them but probably
wouldn't have recognized them if they were carrying a sign. I thought her
singing was beautiful, as was her ensuing duet w/ Otello before she's
The universal standing applause after the final curtain (and not before!)
resulted in multiple curtain calls and several bouquets tossed to Ms.
Villarroel which she caught on the fly like a bridesmaid. Like Handel's
*Julius Caesar* which I had attended last week, this opera was scheduled
to last three and a half hours (w/ three intermissions). Unlike last week,
I didn't experience a moment of tedium.