The Green-Eyed Monster

A Verdi tragedy on the big screen.

One admirable thing Seattle Opera does to nurture and educate its audience is cast a remarkably wide net over the standard repertory. Operabase.com keeps statistics on the most frequently performed works, and of the top 50, I've seen 41 at Seattle Opera in my 18 years in town. The omission I regret most is Verdi's Otello, not done here since '87. In his last-but-one opera and his greatest tragedy, Verdi hit his peak both in writing gripping music and in constructing a swift (just over two hours) and taut show. Why hasn't SO offered it lately? One reason, I'm guessing, is the killer title role, which few tenors can handle (then again, they seem to find Siegfrieds when they need them). Luckily, it's one of the Metropolitan Opera's HD broadcast offerings, airing Saturday, which will tide us over. Arrigo Boito, Verdi's librettist, boiled down Shakespeare's tale of jealousy to its intense essence (as George Bernard Shaw quipped, Shakespeare wrote it in the style of Italian opera to begin with). He provided Verdi with moments both of straightforward dramatic expression (Otello's Act 1 triumphal entrance after having defeated the Turks; his love duet with his wife Desdemona, which is sex in sound) and wrenching irony—which no art form can drive home like opera—when what's happening on the surface is belied by what the music is telling us. For an example, hear the duet that closes Act 2: Iago's planted evidence to make it appear that Desdemona is adulterous, which drives Otello to swear revenge. Iago—though it's all his doing—joins in and pledges his support (the louse!), while the orchestra in the pit reveals the truth, with horns thrusting on the offbeats that sneer, snarl, and almost seem to laugh darkly at the way he's manipulating everyone. Brrr. The Met's cast includes super-diva Renée Fleming. 

 
comments powered by Disqus