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Step Back, I need to Sing a High Note: Otello at the Metropolitan Opera in Review

Saturday, October 13, the Metropolitan Opera presented the second performance of its fall run of Verdi’s opera Otello starring Renee Fleming, Falk Struckman, Michael Fabiano and PLOT TWIST: Newcomer to the Met Avgust Amonov making his Met debut in the title role.

Amonov’s debut was announced on Friday afternoon, that he would replace an ailing Johan Botha, who was so unwell on opening night, before act 3 stated, it was announced that he was sick, but would continue to perform.

Otello is considered one of Verdi’s masterpieces, and while this piece is spectacular, I prefer the Galleria years. I find the plot of Otello, pretty hard to relate to, but regardless, the musical conventions  in this piece however, are astounding, and when performed well, they are phenomenal.

The best word to describe his debut performance as was “inconsistent”. Most of the time, his small voice was inaudible, even to the sophisticated acoustics in the Family Circle of the Met.  His “Esultate” was almost drowned out completely by the orchestra. Conductor Semyon Bychkof’s consistent preference of fortes and fortissimi didn’t help either, and as a result of that, there wasn’t a relationship established between the two. Tempi reared off course sometimes amongst other problems that plagued Amonov and some of his higher notes were so strained and forced, they came out sounding barely like notes at all. His ‘Gia Nella Notte Densa’ was pleasant but again, was difficult to hear sometimes. However, in the final two acts, he sang with both passion and support in most of his music. His spastic acting and habit-of even in the most beautiful and intimate scenes with Desdemona- literally taking a step back Desdemona, to sing a high note. It totally interrupted the dramatic flow. And gave me OCD(If that is possible.) The problems in the beginning could have been him warming up or adjusting to the new house, however compared to some other last minute debuts, it was a disappointing performance.

He was much better than a cover we might have gotten, but the performance ultimately fell short. As the blogger Zerbinetta said in her review of the performance, “most of the good singers in this sparsely populated fach are out singing, not understudying”

Since you are likely unfamiliar with Amonov’s voice, below is Part 1 of a performance of Otello with him in the title role.

As the woman Otello loves, then kills, Renee Fleming was a perfect Desdemona. Fleming is an elegant singer with an elegant voice and an elegant stage presence. She floats her notes with perfection and ease and her phrases are perfectly shaped.

Below, enjoy an audio clip of her singing the Willow Song from when the production opened on the 9th.

Fleming has been a model of technique, having more or less the same creamy, refined voice she has had for years. Her perfect technique adds another layer of beauty and complexity to her performances, and the notes easily and flawlessly come out of her mouth.

Her ‘Willow Song’ and ‘Ave Maria’ were so perfect and so touching, you could hear the sobbing in the house. So spectacular was this performance, that there was no applause as the audience sat stunned and speechless.

Falk Struckman as Iago certainly overshadowed Amonov’s Otello. Often referred to as one of the ultimate villains of opera, Iago plants the seed of jealousy and suspicion in Otello’s head. As the villain, Struckamn perfectly embodied the role. From his perfect diction, spot on acting, and ease with high notes, his performance was exemplary for that role. How got one of the biggest applauses of the night. He consistently brought drama to the role and did a fantastic job.

Johan Botha and Renee Fleming in Otello at the Metropolitan Opera: Photographer unspecified.

Michael Fabiano was a good Cassio, with his big voice and dramatic energy, and Renee Tatum was a lovely sung and acted Emilia. As Lodovico, James Morris did a fantastic job, but this role is such a comedown for him from even Scarpia last season.

Elijah Moshinsky’s production isn’t really a production at all. Through it, we learn little about the characters and there’s no depth of understanding that can be gained from it that you can’t get from reading the program notes. The grandiose, column dominated sets by Michael Yeargan are interesting but they are nearly invisible because of Duane Schuler’s preference of little to no lighting, and spotlights. Fortunately, I think this is the last run this production will see, and we get Antonenko next.

As of now, it is unannounced whether Amonov will sing any more performances of Otello for this fall run, and in the spring, Jose Cura and Krassimira Stoyanova take over Otello and Desdemona.

It’s not the end of the world if you miss this production, but we hope Botha returns in better voice than when he left for the rest of the run.

Also, after the performance, I was lucky enough to go backstage and meet Ms. Fleming and have some of my stuff signed. You can read about the other friends I met and my child like explosion of emotions here.

Enjoy.

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6 comments on “Step Back, I need to Sing a High Note: Otello at the Metropolitan Opera in Review

  1. OT,

    Thanks for this review.

    “Otello is considered one of Verdi’s masterpieces, and while this piece is spectacular, I prefer the Galleria years”

    Well I hope you at least prefer “Falstaff” over his ‘galley years’! 🙂 Yes? No?

  2. Rudely butting in here (of course it is none of my business): I enjoy Verdi’s masterpiece Falstaff very much BUT I, too, prefer Verdi’s gallery year works to his Otello – said Otello for the most part comes off as a failed attempt at conversational verismistic drama; most disappointing of all, Verdi’s Otello lacks the cohesive symphonic sweep of his Falstaff. I know (and don’t care) that the musical establishment does not agree with me.
    – Nice website here!

  3. I’m not sure you are really a teen. Your writing is excellent, mature, and well-balanced. I’m sure Princeton or Columbia already has a freshman place reserved for you for fall 2013.

  4. I saw this production Tuesday evening. I was in the Dress Circle, and thought Amonov did extremely well. I could hear every note, and thought the acting was impassioned and convincing. Maybe he had just gotten used to the house. While Miss Fleming was very good, I actually thought the two male leads especially Iago were better. After reading the reviews I didn’t expect much but I actually totally enjoyed the performance and I go to a lot of opera.

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