Met Opera opens with dark (but not blackface) ‘Otello’

22 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Helen Mirren, 70, defies her years in colourful printed frock as she attends Metropolitan Opera’s season opener.

Though general manager Peter Gelb might be weary of putting out fires, it’s not altogether bad to have a little controversy before the opening of a season at the Met.The premiere of a chilly, slow-starting but eventually fiery “Otello” at the Metropolitan Opera brought out big stars, bright gowns and deep thoughts about the green-eyed monster, which looms large in Verdi’s classic drawn from Shakespeare. “Jealousy is really dangerous,” said Brooke Shields, who accompanied her producer husband Chris Henchy to the gala event Monday night at Lincoln Center. “Whenever I’ve felt myself slipping into envy, I put on the brakes and totally change my way of thinking.On Saturday night she and her husband joined guests at an exclusive screening of Rolling Stones rocker Keith Richards’s bio-documentary at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in New York.

When you see a stage crowded with people in generic 19th-century costumes, with a dark, vaguely abstracted set and dramatic white lighting, the year could be 1985 or 2015, but you know you’re at the Met. I try to celebrate everybody’s gifts.” The actress acknowledged it’s not always easy. “I have coveted on occasion,” she told the Daily News. “I’ve coveted confidence on occasions when I didn’t have it.” The grown-up “Pretty Baby” actress looked assured on Monday, chatting pre-show with Oscar winner Ellen Burstyn.

This year’s pre-season topic – specifically, white actors’ history of employing blackface when singing the title role in Verdi’s Otello – was more intellectually valuable than 2014’s inside-baseball whisperings about contract negotiations between labour and management. The 70-year-old, looking much younger than her age as always, slipped into a colourful ankle-length frock decorated with a print of children’s drawings of red flowers, white houses, rainbows and blue skies. To recap this summer’s intrigue: after some early promotional posters seemed to indicate that Latvian tenor Aleksandrs Antonenko would appear in blackface for director Bartlett Sher’s season-opening new production of Otello (and after the emails poured in), Gelb reached out to several outlets, in order to make clear that the house was officially abandoning the longstanding practice.

The staging was dominated by clear, see-through houses, a canny way to underscore the idea that you can’t see into the hearts and minds of men and women. Labor disputes, and articles about the company’s financial struggles, took the last of the bloom off the Peter Gelb rose; the executive director who promised big changes when he took over in 2006 is now struggling as much as any of his predecessors. And yet, the lack of offensive makeup to one side, the matter of a light-skinned tenor playing “the Moorish captain” still poses dramatic questions (in addition to legitimate concerns about casting diversity, in the first instance).

Otello (Latvian tenor Aleksandrs Antonenko) can’t see wife Desdemona (Bulgarian soprano Sonya Yoncheva) is true blue and that evil Iago (Serbian baritone Zelijko Lucic) is a poisonous frenemy. We know tickets aren’t selling; we sense a hint of desperation in the search for cutting-edge stagings, leading to the engagement and reengagement of the Tony-Award-winning Sher, even though none of his five previous productions for the Met has been all that great. While the racial politics of the original drama don’t map precisely on top of those of our contemporary era, it would be difficult to deny that Otello, the character, is still shaped by perceptions of his own outsider status. To save money at this year’s opening, the Met even dispensed with what had become an annual tradition of live-broadcasting the performance onto Lincoln Center Plaza. And because Verdi and his librettist cut Shakespeare’s first act – with its references to Otello’s experience under slavery and its depiction of early reactions to his interracial union with Desdemona – the danger with Verdi’s Otello is that the captain will come across as simply a paranoid person who is devoid of motivation, and too easily manipulated by Iago.

I’ve always found that the people who are the most jealous are the ones who you need to worry about,” he said. “Half my exes are Brazilian so I know about jealousy.” Patricia Clarkson, of “High Art” and “The Maze Runner” movies, does, too. “I’m a red-blooded, hot-blooded woman. There were stretches when staging touches seemed tentative, when the performance, even with the fiery conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin in the pit and a strong cast onstage, didn’t quite click.

It also dispensed with the time-honored tradition of hiring big stars for opening night; Aleksandrs Antonenko, Zeljko Lucic and the dazzling Sonya Yoncheva are familiar to some regular opera-goers, but hardly household names. I’ve never been driven to extremes like (the fatal ones in the opera), but I’ve had passionate love affairs and been abandoned and forsaken by a man.

Anne Midgette came to the Washington Post in 2008, when she consolidated her various cultural interests under the single title of chief classical music critic. I still do in some cases.” She has a kindred spirit in Danish fashion model and opera-phile Helena Christensen, who said, “I don’t think I’d be a human being if I hadn’t been motivated by jealousy at times.

I hope that I controlled it somehow.” “Odd Mom Out” star Jill Kargman admitted she’s not that envious, but “I’m jealous of people who never get stressed-out. The biggest star on Monday was Yannick Nezet-Seguin, music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra, leading the ever-fluid Met orchestra in a compelling and sensitive reading of Verdi’s score that never lost its focus on the narrative and emotional arc of the story while mining the depths of this beautiful, shifting, chiaroscuro music.

Her act one love duet with Otello is one of the rare points in the opera during which Otello’s complex backstory is given some stage time (it incorporates some of the themes of Shakespeare’s original act one, scene three). Catherine Zuber, the costume designer, outfitted the characters in 19th-century uniforms and gowns, and the set designer Es Devlin, for her Met debut, created a bunch of translucent boxy units, with drawn-on architectural details, that kept shifting restlessly across the stage against an abstracted video backdrop of roiling waves, emphasizing that we didn’t know quite when or where we were while giving the characters perpetually new geographies to navigate.

The “your love saved me” trope is common in opera, but Antonenko’s performance with Yoncheva made this particular recollection of romantic grace sound distinct. The set-unit movement paid off in Act II, when a quick shift of scene in the middle of an exchange between Otello and Iago made it clear that Otello’s jealousy takes more than one conversation to build — redressing a problem that resulted when Verdi’s librettist, Arrigo Boito, combined two scenes from Shakespeare’s play into one for the sake of operatic brevity. Antonenko and Lucic even have the square, beefy faces of 1960s head shots, evoking the great Canadian tenor Jon Vickers — himself a formidable Otello — to whom the evening was dedicated.

The scene in which members of both couples are simultaneously grappling with one another’s motives was a highlight, not least because it showed conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin’s sly feel for building to one of Verdi’s orchestral climaxes. Nézet-Séguin sounded in lockstep with the orchestra all night long, frequently bringing out delicious details – as with the excitable woodwinds that accompany Otello’s dark glee, in the moment when he believes himself justified in rejecting “love and jealousy together”. And his performance had cohered, as well: here was an Otello weary of not quite being able to believe his turn in fortunes, and thus willing to throw good love overboard, rather than live in the eternal grip of insecurity.

Antonenko’s mix of self-righteousness and self-care was subtly powerful here – though you wouldn’t quite know it from the stage lighting favored by Sher’s production. Simplistic, blood-red tints seemed to overtake large portions of the big Met stage whenever a character gave voice to an unkind thought,even when Verdi’s actual music presented a more complex emotional field of play. Chad Shelton made his company debut in the brief role of Rodrigo; Jennifer Johnson Cano was a clarion Emilia; and Günther Groissböck growled bass-ily and a little foggily as Lodovico. A terrible storm threatens to sink Otello’s ship before it can dock; the people of Cyprus, singing Verdi’s raging choral music, look to the sea with terror.

And she had a voice to match, fresh and free and rich, dramatic in her increasingly hard-to-watch standoffs with Otello and achingly poignant in the long final bedroom scene, which can easily become static, but did not. The Cyprians — the members of the great Met chorus costumed in curiously wintry garb (designed by Catherine Zuber) — sing this frenzied music vehemently as the orchestra under Mr.

In the final scene of Act III, Zuber finally cracked out some colors; the sets stood still and behaved; and everything became dramatically, almost cinematically clear. Perhaps the point was the timelessness of this work, a piece as much of our time and of Verdi’s as of Shakespeare’s, with its powerful music both heightening and mitigating the pain of watching it unfold.

After Otello’s ship landed safely and the relieved Cyprians sang “È salvo!” (“She is saved”), the choristers relaxed, moving about and exuding more confidence. The relationship took on greater focus later, when, in an inventive touch, the two men find themselves sitting in Otello’s bedroom, on the edge of the bed. This production had already made news when the Met announced this month that, breaking with past practice, it would cease to apply any kind of blackface to Otello.

Sher argues that, whereas Shakespeare’s Othello encounters overt racism, the opera, with a libretto by Arrigo Boito, softens these attitudes and emphasizes the issue of his otherness. A true test of an Otello comes in Act III, during the despairing soliloquy when Otello asks God why, of all human trials, it is an unfaithful wife, the only humiliation Otello cannot endure, that has been visited upon him.

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