Otello: the story of a man who is manipulated into killing his wife by an evil, jealous underling. With the original story by Shakespeare, the Montreal Opera is presenting Verdi’s version of the tale.
The set and costumes, for an opera of this scale, were pretty minimalistic. Instead of complicated sets, there were pillars and platforms that were the backdrop for projections depicting each locale. The costumes were also unremarkable, in muted tones, with the exception of Desdemona’s dresses and the Italian ambassadors. That was where the costume department shone.
The story has it all, a heroic protagonist, a beautiful woman who is the object of his affection, and an evil villain bent on destroying it all. It revolves around Iago, one of Otello’s crew, who is jealous because he was not promoted to captain while another, Cassio, was. Because of this slight, he decides to destroy everyone involved, beginning with Cassio and ending with Otello himself, taking out the completely uninvolved Desdemona, Otello’s wife. Verdi’s score is passionate and exciting, and the Montreal Opera’s chorus was in fine form and thoroughly committed to the work.
Amongst the main players, the performances were less convincing. Otello (Kristian Benedikt) , who is the title character, fell a little flat with me. I wanted him to be more powerful, more convincing. He is, after all, supposed to be a formidable character: he came to power from a disadvantaged position, being a Moor, or a Black Muslim. This is also the root for his insecurities regarding Desdemona.
Cassio was strong, but as a supporting character still left me wanting a little more meat. Otello is, after all, supposed to feel threatened by him. Iago, however, was a delicious character who revelled in his villainy and I was happy with Argis Argiris’ performance. He filled the stage and pulled me in.
The highlight of the opera, for me, was the fourth act, and Hiromi Omira’s Desdemona. A pitiful, and perhaps even pathetic character throughout the first three acts, she comes into the own just before her death. Verdi’s Willow Song and Ave Maria for her are haunting, and her death is heartbreaking, for we know she did absolutely no wrong; she only wanted to help a friend. If only her husband had been willing to have more faith in her and not been so ready to believe the word and manipulations of a “friend”, all would have been well.
While the actual production left a bit to be desired, one note about the full dress rehearsal I attended. It was open to public and private schools, allowing those who would never usually have the opportunity to see an opera or any major cultural event have the chance to do so. I find that to be a laudable initiative by the Montreal Opera, and something that I hope other major Montreal cultural organizations will take into consideration.
Otello will run until February 6 at Place des Arts. Tickets $21 and up HERE