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Dramatic 'Otello' Opens Dallas Opera's Season


by Olin Chism 24 Oct 2009

Music critic Olin Chism reviews Otello for Art&Seek: Dallas Morning News review The [London] Independent on the Winspear Wayne Lee Gay’s  review for TheaterJones Willard Spiegelman’s comments on Frontburner NYTimes review A dramatic performance of Verdi’s Otello opened the Dallas Opera’s season on Friday night. Enhancing the drama was the location, the company’s new Margot […]

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Music critic Olin Chism reviews Otello for Art&Seek:

  • Wayne Lee Gay’s  review for TheaterJones

A dramatic performance of Verdi’s Otello opened the Dallas Opera’s season on Friday night. Enhancing the drama was the location, the company’s new Margot and Bill Winspear Opera House.

It was clear that some tweaking had been done to correct a couple of acoustical deficiencies that had been apparent during the hall’s opening gala last week. The orchestral sound, which had seemed a little weak in comparison to the hall’s pronounced vocal strength, was more forceful Friday night, without overwhelming the singers. And a brief round of tributes before the performance showed that the amplification system could present the spoken word with clarity. Before it had been far too echoey and ill-focused.

Otello began well and remained consistent until the fourth act, when it got better. I found myself deeply moved by Desdemona’s “Willow Song” and the drama of Otello’s murder of Desdemona near the end. This was superb singing and acting by Alexandra Deshorties and Clifton Forbis. (No thanks to the cellphone possessor whose instrument rang during a crucial moment of the “Willow Song.” It couldn’t have been more ill-timed.)

Other highlights included a potent Act II duet between Otello and Iago (Lado Ataneli) and Iago’s powerful “Credo.” Emilia (Elizabeth Turnbull) and Cassio (Sean Panikkar) were other prominent members of a generally fine cast.

Ataneli seemed slightly disconcerted by a round of boos at the final curtain call, but it seemed to me that they were a rather good-humored acknowledgment that he makes a wonderful villain rather than an expression of dissatisfaction with his performance.

The orchestra is a potent force in Otello — more so than in early Verdi — and Graeme Jenkins and his orchestral musicians did much, both in quiet moments and stormy scenes, to enhance the drama.

The team of stage director Tim Albery, production designer Anthony Baker and lighting designer Thomas C. Hase came up with new ideas that sparked interest without doing violence to the spirit of Verdi’s work.

This Otello seems to take place on a ship (the sets look nautical and so do the naval costumes) and around the turn of the 20th century, say about the time of Madame Butterfly. The ambassador of the Venetian republic in Otello could trade costumes with Sharpless in Butterfly and nobody would notice anything amiss.

Albery’s apt stage direction made this a theatrically believable performance, and Hase’s sometimes spooky lighting made a strong impression, especially in the last act.

Before the performance Dallas Opera president Kern Wildenthal acknowledged the contributions of many who made the new hall possible and recognized the presence of former First Lady Laura Bush, the honorary chairman of “Ovation!,” the Dallas Opera’s grand opening celebration. If former President Bush was present, he didn’t take a bow. Donald Winspear paid tribute to his late father, whose large gift made the opera house possible.

Before and after the performance and during intermissions, the packed lobby made it clear that this area is not as spacious as that of the Meyerson Symphony Center next door. Well, it does foster a greater sense of community.

Otello will continue through Nov. 8, then the Dallas Opera will take a break until Feb. 12, when Mozart’s Così fan futte will inaugurate a more extensive late winter/spring series of performances.

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  • Kathryn Houseman Lobert

    An amazing and breathtaking production! This line from the above review, “Otello began well and remained consistent until the fourth act, when it got better,” could not be more accurate. I had not been to the opera in more years than some of the actors have been alive and I will be forever delighted that my sister invited us to attend. Many were complaining about this or that at the opera house, but I found it almost magical! Wonderful work – hope it is like this for always!! 🙂