Tagged: Otello

Otello: In Which I Try to Get Past my Dislike of Verdi

Yesterday, on Feb 19th, I dug the tickets I won at Opera 101 about a month ago and headed for Otello with boyfriend in tow. It was a first for me – I’ve never seen Otello on stage before.

With a couple of exceptions – namely Rigoletto, which is a masterpiece – I have a tough time really getting into Verdi. For me, he represents a sort of nadir when it comes to things I look for in an operatic work. He is too late for Mozartian stylish wit, too early for Wagnerian grandeur; lacking in lightness and humour, and also lacking the throbbing romantic excess of verismo. His operas are littered with patches of glory, but an eveningfull of Verdi sometimes feels humourless, sexless, and bland to me. Despite his admiration for Shakespeare, he also seemed to have a weakness for colossally dumb plots. His characters are frequently one-dimensional. I like the French and Russian repertoire from the 19th century better than most of the Italian stuff, but a lot of people smarter and more knowledgeable than me esteem Verdi above all, so what can I say?

With that disclosure out of the way, I’ll say that my experience of Otello last night was very pleasurable but not particularly memorable. Clifton Forbis as Otello was vocally impressive despite some rough patches early on. Overall I wish he’d been a stronger stage presence, and that the direction was a little more imaginative. Tiziana Caruso’s voice as Desdemona was clear, full, and sumptuous, and the Willow Song/Ave Maria combination in the fourth act was one of the highlights of the evening. The Act III finale, along with Cassio’s dream, were also musical standouts. The sets and costumes were dominated by the color red, perhaps to signify passion/blood? The apple tree in Act II was an interesting touch, seemingly meant to evoke a serpent-in-the-garden-of-Eden mood. Otherwise, things felt a bit stiff.

I will say, however, that the “ancora un bacio” moment at the end is a certain tearjerker.

Here’s what other people thought:

Canoe JAM!: “Powerful, Complex”

Globe and Mail: “The best of this production happens in the pit”

The Varsity (University of Toronto): “Did not meet the standard set by the COC’s brillant productions both this season and in the past”

Eye Weekly: “the production is “grand” in all the wrong ways and, what is worse, emotionally uninvolving”

NOW! Magazine: “It’s as definitive a production of Verdi’s late masterpiece as we’re likely to see in a while”

National Post: “This was a no-nonsense evening of great drama and good singing”

La Scena Musicale: “This production won’t make you jump out of your seat, but not every production is meant to do that”

Toronto Star: “Clifton Forbis, as Otello, still has ringing high notes when he gives them a good push, but otherwise his voice is shaky and colourless”

COC’s Opera 101: No Sexy Tenors

Attendees of Tuesday’s Opera 101 event at the Drake Hotel were deprived the sight of Clifton Forbis, slated to sing Otello. Since the concertmaster, Marie Bérard, had made particular note of his attractiveness (the women in the orchestra were definitely paying attention to him, she said) it was a bit of a disappointment not to be able to judge.

Fortunately, we have the internet to help us confirm/deny his sexiness:

Clifton Forbis
Clifton Forbis, slated to play Otello at the COC

Alexander Neef was able to step in to keep the discussion going (look, he has a blog!). There were oblique hints that next season may feature I Puritani.

Although the Opera 101 events are supposedly geared to neophytes, it felt and sounded more like an evening for the fans. The Q&A revealed plenty of opera buffs in the audience. To be honest, I’m not sure what a true “beginners evening” would be like. An explanation of the plot, perhaps, with reassurance about the surtitles? Perhaps a discussion about how Verdi’s music is different from that of other popular opera composers, or why the role of Otello is uniquely demanding.