On Friday night, the Metropolitan Opera revived Otello, Verdi’s opera after Shakespeare, in the Bartlett Sher production of 2015. That production opened the season, three years ago. The leading roles were taken by Aleksandrs Antonenko (Otello), Sonya Yoncheva (Desdemona), and Zeljko Lucic (Iago). Two of those three—Yoncheva and Lucic—are back this season. The new Otello, however, is Stuart Skelton, the Australian tenor.
But he was ill on Friday night and needed a sub—who was Carl Tanner, an American. Darned interesting story. More on him in a moment.
Gustavo Dudamel is a very talented guy who is amazingly uneven.
Conducting Otello three years ago was Yannick Nézet-Séguin, who is now the Met’s music director. In the pit this year is Gustavo Dudamel, the Venezuelan star who is the music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Dudamel is a very talented guy who is amazingly uneven. He can be mediocre, pedestrian, snoozy. His concerts with the Vienna Philharmonic in Carnegie Hall last season were maddeningly bland. And he can be electric, lighting up a concert hall or opera house.
We could say that about other conductors too, past and present: Valery Gergiev, Lorin Maazel . . .
In Otello on Friday, Dudamel had a very good night. He was alive from the start. The music jumped off the page. There was some shaky coordination, as during Act I’s drinking scene. But, in the main, Dudamel was in control, bringing out the drama and nuance of the piece. Verdi would have smiled.
I think I especially appreciated the performance’s muscularity, where that is called for. I wrote in my notes: “Solti strength.”
If you will forgive an old formulation, Friday night’s Otello could have been called Iago. Zeljko Lucic is ever reliable—a workhorse of a baritone—but he outdid himself on this occasion. His singing was sly, burnished, and robust, as needed. At every turn, it was secure. And Lucic’s acting was theater-good, not just opera-good.
La Yoncheva did not have her best night, suffering some impurities. She was stronger—more sharp-edged—than she was sweet. But she was more than adequate, and she wrung the emotion out of her part (which has plenty).
Friday night’s Otello could have been called Iago.
Carl Tanner, the substitute Otello? He is a veteran singer with a remarkable autobiography: before assuming the operatic stage, he was a truck driver and a bounty-hunter. As Otello, he acquitted himself honorably. The audience got its money’s worth. Yet he did not bring the sound—the volume—that Otello needs, and this deprived the character of some of his authority. Tanner was at his most effective in his soft singing.
Among the other singers onstage was James Morris, the famous bass-baritone. I sometimes say, “One day they’re bestriding the world like a colossus, and the next day they’re asking for the rent.” What I mean is, veteran basses, in their closing years, often take the role of Benoît, the landlord in La bohème. Or they ask for Otello’s sword.
That’s what Lodovico does, and Morris took this role on Friday night, as he has before. In prior times, he was Iago, singing alongside Plácido Domingo, memorably. The Otello, Domingo, is now a baritone; the Iago is now Lodovico—and a good one.
According to the calendar, Morris is in his early seventies, but, at least from the seats, he looks the same as ever—fit as a fiddle—and he sounds much the same too, with volume to spare. I hope Morris shares his secrets of longevity, if he has them, with other singers.
Sitting there in the seats, I did some reminiscing—about Domingo, Morris, and Renée Fleming (Desdemona). And about James Levine, the conductor. Pretty much the greatest conductor who ever lived sits at home, presumably, just blocks from the Met, unthought about and untalked about, as far as I’m aware. This oblivion is perhaps deserved. It is also understandable. But it’s also a stunning development, isn’t it?