BWW Review: Austin Opera Festively Reimagines Verdi's OTELLO in Austin, TX
Continuing Austin Opera's relationship with Italian Operas, Giuseppe Verdi's OTELLO opened at The Long Center last Saturday. To a packed house and a full stage, Verdi's adapted story of Shakespeare's classic tragedy OTHELLO, struck a chord with the audience. Moving from the familiar OTHELLO, Verdi transformed this classic story into a true Italian operatic experience. Pulling inspiration from Catholicism - the division of good vs. evil is ever more dramatic in the operatic telling of this betrayal. With OTELLO's clear religious thematic exploration, Shakespeare's original story is more expanded on rather than altered. For audience members unfamiliar with the story of OTELLO, the key plot driving intentions of our characters is simple. Unlucky and pure Desdemona falls victim to power hungry and manipulative Iago's plot to convince Otello of Desdemona's unfaithfulness. Envious Otello is overcome by jealousy and thus acts out on his anger, altering the fate of many players upon the stage.
Unlike most opera experiences, OTELLO is being presented as a festive staged concert event, rather than a fully staged and lavishly costumed opera audiences have come to recognize. The orchestra ventures out of the pit and is placed center stage for the duration of the four acts. The chorus, as opposed to being choreographed among the lead actors, decorate the backdrop and sing out over the musicians. The main action of this performance is placed on the apron between two simply placed benches. The separation of these elements create a dynamically leveled show required for this type of program.
The excellent performance from soprano Marina Costa-Jackson as Desdemona and tenor Issachah Savage as Otello presented the story of love and loss with class and grace. Feeling my plastic cup of champagne vibrate in my hand through their arias, their vocal talent is of the highest caliber. Most uniquely, the duets are sung together but without vocal layering from the leads. The Bel Canto (meaning "beautiful singing" and refers to a traditional Italian style) of Costa-Jackson's performance was delightful. The level of technique and reach from her vocal instrument conveyed the emotions within Desdemona and complemented the musical composition. Red faced and evil-eyed Iago, played by Michael Chioldi, was venomous - much to the audience's delight. With Verdi's thematic focus of Catholicism, Iago's motivation differed from classical vengeance and more so as if our antagonist wore a friendship bracelet with the devil. A highlight from Chioldi's performance was his rendition of "Inaffia l'ugola" or for the average audience member, "the drinking song from OTELLO". The coloratura Chioldi delivered was catchy and invited the audience to revel in his wickedness. As the entire cast pantomimed props and wore simple black-tie attire, the performances resonated deep within the house, without missing the normal frills.
Concert Stage Director, Rebecca A. Herman creatively staged these performance components to embody a truly unique experience. Although the performers ventured into the orchestra's seating on a few occasions, the three moving pieces of this production mostly stayed in their lanes. A creative collection of trumpet players ventured into the boxes during the performance, adding a creative dimension and yet another layer to the action. The simplicity and modern feel, magnified the different aspects of an opera performance and more than anything felt like many experiences rolled into one.
Austin Opera marries the experiences of a symphonic and operatic combo in OTELLO with ease. Though there may have more opportunity to mesh the elements, the simplistic presentation in this staging worked well. With two performances left, the greatest gift Austin Opera bestows to local Austinites, is the chance to see fantastic operatic performers from all over the country in their own backyard. Along with the vocalists, the opportunity to see the amazing musicians delivering Verdi's composition, provides a glimpse into all the moving pieces of this production. Shine your shoes, grab your date and head to The Long Center for the truly unique experience in Austin Opera's staging of OTELLO.
OTELLO: A FESTIVE STAGED CONCERT EVENT
Music by Giuseppe Verdi
Libretto by Arrigo Boito
Based on Shakespeare's tragedy Othello
Sung in Italian with projected English titles
November 10th, 15th & 18th 2018
The Long Center for the Performing Arts
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Photo credit: Erich Schlegel