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Theater Review: Live streaming of Verdi’s ‘Otello’ brings Shakespeare to life

Ayla Gotkan, Reporter

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Most people are accustomed to seeing Shakespeare’s plays materialize again and again, whether in a traditional theater setting, such as Lovers and Madmen’s “Macbeth,” which played earlier this month, or in a creative new genre, such as the musical “The Verona Project” that is currently running weekends through Nov. 4. Operatic re-imaginings are less common, though not necessarily less engrossing. One such opera that beautifully recreates Shakespeare’s work is Giuseppe Verdi’s “Otello,” which played Saturday at Cinemark Century 12, 1715 Maple Ave., as part of the Metropolitan Opera’s Live in HD series.

Just as in the Shakespearean play “Othello,” the opera “Otello” depicts the doomed love story of the jealous title character, a Moor who governs Cyprus, and his all-too-innocent bride, Desdemona. The two other featured roles are that of Iago, Otello’s deceptive ensign who repeatedly professes his love for his master but secretly hates him, and Cassio, whom Otello promoted to lieutenant over Iago, provoking the ensign’s rancor.  The opera focuses on Iago’s successful attempts to trick Otello into believing Desdemona is betraying him with Cassio.

Overall, the opera struck all the right notes. As Desdemona, Renee Fleming truly captured the personality of her character with a voice pure and tender throughout. When she sang the “Willow Song” in Act 4, her voice blended divinely with the orchestra’s woodwind section, masterfully conducted by Semyon Bychkov. The English horn solo at the beginning of Act 4 was especially chilling.
Another example of the nuance in this performance was Falk Struckmann’s Iago. In Act 2, when Iago is alone onstage, the dynamic passion and expression in Struckmann’s voice and face drove the audience, both in the opera house and the movie theater, to spontaneous applause.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of Johan Botha’s Otello. For the most part, Botha lacked the subtle expression of Struckmann. When Otello and Iago are alone at the end of Act 2, Botha’s limited repertoire of facial expressions (wide or narrowed eyes) cannot convey the same depth of emotion Struckmann’s astonishing range of animated facial gestures can. This discrepancy is highlighted by the camera’s close-ups, one of the many interesting aspects of watching an opera in a movie theater.

Another was the opportunity to hear an opera expert provide insight into the show. Host Sondra Radvanovsky shared insider information, such as the fact that Saturday’s performance was Botha’s first after a break he took for a cold, which might explain his lack of energy. To be fair, Botha’s voice was impressively powerful, and overall he truly captured the raging, tortured nature of Otello’s degeneration.

The opera as a whole made a magnificent impression, even through the uninspired medium of a movie screen. For the most part, the camera work was thoughtfully done and at times even enhanced the suspense of the plot. Unfortunately, there were a few issues with camera focus, especially at the beginning of Act 3. However, the Live in HD series provides an unparalleled opportunity to experience a Metropolitan Opera performance at a relatively low price and convenient location. Through its Live in HD showing of “Otello,” the Metropolitan Opera brought Shakespeare to life for 250,000 more people than it would have otherwise, and it showed just how much all of its stars could shine, even through a screen in a movie theater.

The Live in HD series is showing Adès’ “The Tempest” on Nov. 10.