Friday, November 27, 2009

SFO: Otello

San Francisco Opera

War Memorial Opera House
Wed Nov 25 2009 7:30 pm

Otello: Johan Botha
Desdemona: Zvetelina Vassileva
Iago: Marco Vratogna
Cassio: Beau Gibson
Emilia: Renée Tatum
Lodovico: Eric Halfvarson
Roderigo: Daniel Montenegro
Montano: Julien Robbins
Herald: Austin Kness

Conductor: Nicola Luisotti
Director: Peter J. Hall
Revival Director: Stephen Barlow
Production Designer: John Gunter

This Otello seems to be set in 19th century colonial Cypress Cyprus. There is a single set consisting of tiered galleries surrounding an open space. I suppose it is economical. But it is funny when the curtain comes up after a pause for a scene change, & the stage looks the same. The staging is often equally undramatic. In Act II the children's chorus sings beautifully & dances, but they are put upstage behind a screen. I suppose it makes a point about how little this means to Iago & Otello, who are downstage at desks, but it makes the scene uninvolving.

As advertised, Johan Botha has a bright, ringing sound which is exciting to hear. He is not a dramatic presence, though. When he flopped on the floor in Act III, there were titters. Marco Vratogna's Iago, with his smooth bald head & snugly fitting uniform, was the most attractive & interesting figure on stage. This Iago delighted in his control, of both himself & others. Zvetelina Vassileva is a reliable presence, though her womanly demeanor & straight-ahead singing don't fit the picture of a young, sweet & innocent Desdemona. Eric Halfvarson's powerful voice was a treat in the tiny role of Lodovico.

The orchestral playing was very loose this evening. The double basses had intonation problems in their exposed section solo at Otello's entrance in Act III.

Since the Opera Tattler was elsewhere this evening, I should report that during Act II a cell phone rang several times just before Iago's narration of Cassio's dream. At the intermission, I saw 2 gentlemen retrieve glasses of white wine from beneath a table on the grand tier level. They must have stashed them there beforehand.


Immanuel Gilen said...

19th century colonial Cypress - where's that?

Axel Feldheim said...

Good catch!

sfmike said...

Though I was at a different performance, I must confess I was one of the titterers when Otello fell to the ground. Possibly the greatest thing about opera is how the sublime and the ridiculous are just molecules apart. I have probably burst into both tears of emotion and derisive, inappropriate laughter an equal number of times over the years while attending opera, and you can never predict quite which one is coming up next.

Axel Feldheim said...

Totally agree about the sublime & the ridiculous being in such close proximity in opera. A big part of my fascination with opera has to do with the artificiality of its conventions.

I totally understand you & the other titterers. I think that reaction was appropriate in this instance!