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Verdi's 'Othello' Live in HD from the New York Metropolitan Opera

Monday, 29 October 2012 , ora 11.19
To me, the fulminating success of Othello, by Giuseppe Verdi, broadcast Live in HD from the Metropolitan Opera in New York, on Saturday, 28th October 2012, is due equally to the Russian-American conductor Semyon Bychkov, the American soprano Renée Fleming (Desdemona) and the German bass-baritone Falk Struckmann (Iago). I certainly appreciated the magnificent staging, the lavish costumes (by Peter J. Hall) and the discreet direction (Elijah Moshinsky - producer), which allowed Verdi's music to unfold freely in all its splendour; and yet, I have never seen or heard an orchestra as grand as the one conducted by Semyon Bychkov, or a Desdemona as delicate and refined, as splendid both in singing and in acting as the wonderful Renée Fleming and a Iago as maleficent and with such an overwhelmingly destructive force as that portrayed by Falk Struckmann.

Conductor Semyon Bychkov

… did not let me forget for one instant that, during every moment of the plot, the instruments have their say, as well. It seemed that under his baton I heard a whole different orchestra than the one I was used to. I knew that the Met Opera instrumentalists were very good, but this time it felt as if I rediscovered them in stunning performances. From the deafeningly thick storm at the beginning of the opera to the subtle love scenes that nonetheless carried an explosive emotional impact or the scenes of extreme suffering, the entire orchestra or simply the soloists - especially the wind instrumentalists - were always there, in the middle of the action, in the middle of the drama, to the performance of which they were major participants. I convinced myself once again - as if it were still necessary! - that an orchestra, no matter how good, constantly exceeds its high artistic standards when it is conducted by someone as great as Semyon Bychkov, who has his own je ne sais quoi - shall I say charisma, or shall I add talent, knowledge, feeling, vision… ?! After the performance, opera connoisseurs said it had only been under James Levine's baton that the Met Opera orchestra ever sounded this well.

Soprano Renée Fleming

… seems to be the Met Opera's defending diva of the day, as she is unrivalled in Richard Strauss's scores and particularly remarkable in any other role she might take on, in a wide repertoire, from classical to modern musical pieces. Her debut at the Metropolitan Opera was in 1994, with the part of Desdemona in Verdi's masterpiece. Certainly, after these 17 years, her version of interpretation and the attitude towards the score and the character are no longer the same, but the Desdemona that Renée Fleming has played this autumn has the undeniable status of a benchmark part. She uses her voice with uncommon smartness and overcomes the traps of age surely and cleverly. The soprano gives a meaning and a colour to every word, her role is built in the details and peaks at a colossus of shades, colours and phrases - the part is very generous in this aspect. Woman of a noble beauty, Renée Fleming gives life to her character deeply and convincingly, transforming Desdemona before our very eyes with great veracity, going all the way from the highest happiness to the deepest despair. The careful analysis of Renée Fleming's performance of this role could and should be the object of study for all sopranos who may wish to bring Verdi's Desdemona to life on stage.

Baritone Falk Struckmann

I will not hesitate to state the same conviction regarding the performance of German singer Falk Struckmann in Iago's complex part. Known and praised as one of the best voices at the moment, especially in Wagner's operas, Falk Struckmann proved he is comfortable with a much wider repertoire. His debut at the Met Opera was in Wozzeck by Alban Berg, conducted by James Levine. And the part of Iago fitted him like a… glove, in this performance of Othello. Cameras gave us the opportunity to watch him closely even from the first chords of the opera, when he was still lost in the crowd, and we were able to see how the singer played his part from the first to the last sound of the score. Flexible on the stage, elegant, with expressive mimicry, Falk Struckmann bites the part when the character requires it - one of the peak moments of the performance was his great aria in the second act! - or uses his voice, his gestures and his look to caress when he wants to be deceiving. There is nothing false in this Iago, whose very essence is that of a false man! We believed him and we admired him, enslaved by the overwhelming fascination of evil. I am dreaming of a Scarpia played by Falk Struckmann!

Tenor Johan Botha

Why shouldn't I add tenor Johan Botha to this exceptional trio? His voice sounded wonderful, defined by its metallic timbre and its strength and ease, at the same time, when it came to acute notes hit consistently and brilliantly. If I had closed my eyes and listened to this performance of Othello in a supposed concertante version I would have been fully contented. On the stage, though, I needed more than his static presence, his involvement in the plot mostly through visibly 'constructed' mimicry, his lack of 'living' the role and his superficial connection to his game partners.

The audience

The reaction of the audience in the live broadcast from the Met Opera that I attended on Saturday, 28th October 2012 was impressive. Rarely have I seen/perceived such an enthusiastic public, cheering at the end of a scene, of a duo or of an aria, an audience that did not contain their satisfaction and the desire to thank the performers. 4000 pairs of hands clapped frantically. I am certain that, had it been possible, another 250,000 pairs of hands belonging to those who watched this worldwide live broadcast would have joined them.

Cristina Sârbu
Translated by Irina Borþoi
MTTLC, Bucharest University