Otello Moors at the Dorothy Chandler
Los Angeles Opera
02/16/2008 - and 21, 24, 27 February and 03/02/2008 – and 5, 9 March
Giuseppe Verdi: Otello
Ian Storey (Otello), Elena Evseeva (Desdemona), Mark Delavan (Iago), Derek Taylor (Cassio), Ning Liang (Emilia), Eric Halfvarson (Ludovico), Gregory Warren (Roderigo), Ryan McKinny (Montano), Matthew Moore (Herald)
Grant Gershon (Associate Conductor/Chorus Master), Los Angeles Opera Orchestra and Chorus, James Conlon (Conductor)
John Cox (Director), Johan Engels (Scenery and Costume Designer), Simon Corder (Lighting Designer)
After a successful reception of the 1871 opera Aïda, Giuseppe Verdi’s fecund years of composing operas, a total of twenty-six to that date, appeared to be coming to a close. Verdi was then almost 60 years of age, a time when Italian influences were falling out of favor only to be usurped by those of Germany and France, specifically Richard Wagner in the musical arena. With exception of his 1874 work, Messa da Requiem and a re-worked version of Simon Boccanegra in 1881, Verdi remained inactive for the next thirteen years in utter disappointment with the recent cultural upheaval.
It was to the credit of friend and adviser Giulio Ricordi and friend and poet Arrigo
Boito that Verdi was pulled out of his doldrums and enticed him to work on an operatic work centered around the Shakesperian character of Otello. Verdi had long admired the Englishman’s works, having produced a successful Macbeth in 1847. Verdi worked on his Otello for three years that achieved a successful opening night at La Scala on February 5, 1887 in Milan, Italy.
Verdi’s Otello opens without any overture or prelude, instead whirls the audience into immediate action with stormy weather in a Cyprian port waiting for Otello’s ship to return safely to harbor after a successful battle against the Turks. Simon Corder’s strobe lighting and moving clouds set against a scrim aptly conveys the raging conditions behind which sways a moving metal ball of fire while local countrymen stand on Johan Engels’ impractical and unimaginative concave stage, anchored by two square tunnels.
Act I’s opening chorus requires great energy in both the “Una vela!” and “Fuoco di gioia”, followed by the rousing “Brindisi” led by the sinister Iago, yet lacks much of a spark in the grand unfolding of events. In contrast, however, is Anne Tomlinson’s vibrant and eloquent children’s chorus in “Dove guardi”, surrounding the tragic heroine, Desdemona, as performed by the Elena Evseeva, a last minute change due to an indisposed Cristina Gallardo-Domâs.
Riding on top of a 35 foot mast is the British-born Ian Storey in the title role. Making his U.S. debut with the Los Angeles Opera, Storey begins his performance with some trepidation and lack of convincing amorous connect with Desdemona during “Già nella notte” at the end of Act I, but he eventually settles down comfortably with the demanding acting and singing until the final curtain.
Storey has recently gone through several transformations, both in career and voice. Originally categorized as a light lyric tenor, his voice has moved to a spinto tenor and then full dramatic tenor in a period of two years. Although a rather obscure figure in the operatic world, he suddenly catapulted to international acclaim due to his replacement in Tristan und Isolde during opening night at La Scala last December. Storey’s career will flourish, but in this Otello production he lacks the heftiness in his register, in all likelihood due to recent "physical" changes.
One of the most evil roles in all of opera belongs to Iago, the master schemer who orchestrates the eventual demise of both Otello and Desdemona. Mark Delavan, too, makes his Company debut in Los Angeles and proves substantial in weaving his macabre magic, yet the role of Iago calls for a very evil man, and that does not come across strongly enough to the audience.
Supporting roles of Roderigo (Gregory Warren), Emilia (Ning Liang), and Montano (Ryan McKinny) are sufficient despite the difficulties in volume that is drowned out by James Conlon’s orchestra. Eric Halfvarson is an excellent Lodovico with his authoritarian bass voice, harkening back to his outstanding role in last year’s Don Carlo as The Grand Inquisitor.
The highlight, however, goes to last minute substitute Elena Evseeva who holds together the entire performance with her heart rending Desdemona. Her voice hits the highest of notes with top-notch clarity and she controls vocal dynamics with restraint and confidence. Having made earlier appearances in The Metropolitan Opera’s Eugene Onegin and Mazeppa, she is one to closely watch.
This Otello has many attributes under the direction of John Cox, but lacks a certain verve and creative scenery. James Conlon’s dynamic orchestra helps counteract emptiness that rolls in and out like an endless wave.