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Subject: Hartford OTELLO; split personality production
From: "William A. Fregosi" <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:William A. Fregosi
Date:Fri, 20 Mar 1998 10:44:11 -0500
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The Connectucut Opera opened a two performance run of OTELLO last night at
the Bushnell Hall--a fine space for acoustics and one which gives most of
the audience a truly intimate contact with the performer.  The evening
consisted of a very strong vocal performance and a visual/dramatic
experience of little or no value at all.

This was a "traditional" production in the worst sense of the word.  Stock
rented drops and wings from the Stivanello warehouse ranged from adequate
to garish and badly executed--act 2 in particular looked like a cartoon
view of a harem chamber gone bad--and direction was rarely to be found.
The chorus, cut completely from act 2, largely stood in place and/or moved
without obvious motivation elsewhere.  They were directed to be motionless
during the fight in act 1 and if there are only three combattants and a
placid chorus, it is hard to accept mention of a general riot or an
uprising elsewhere in the city which needs to be quelled.  Strong soloists
were left more or less to their own devices with no exploration of their
real relationships beyond moving to the proper place at the proper time.
Livelier actors (Mark Rucker, Dana Fripp) fared better than less savvy ones
(Eduardo Villa and many of the others).  The
great shame of all this is that with a cast this strong, the
musico-dramatic impact of the performance should have been significant if
only there had been rehearsal time enough or a stronger director at the
helm.

Willie Anthony Waters led a propulsive performance, sometimes too brashly loud
in the orchestra and lacking in necessary moments of introspection.  But he
handled the big moments well and there were few, if any, lapses in
ensemble.  Orchestral playing (save for a cymbal player badly in need of
some valium)
was good and the english horn in act 4 quite eloquent.  His work with the
orchestra and principals showed the most rehearsal and collaboration of the
entire evening.

Eduardo Villa is a genuine Otello.  The voice is of decent size and darkly
powerful.  The top is easy, secure and brightens nicely.  He does not
possess the hard focus (squillo) of some of the great Italians in this part
but seems in the James McCracken mode, albeit with none of the bottled-up
quality which could invade McCracken's work and make it seem pressured.
This Otello could declaim his entrance and the riot scene lines
commandingly and then actually SING the duet.  Throughout the evening, he
alternated power and finely shaded legato as necessary and he went to his
death with great dignity rather than with sobs and gasps.  What he needed
desperately was a director to work with, but he still managed to convince
by sheer force of his voice.

Mark Rucker's Iago was also just what one wants.  He dispatched the
filagree in the drinking song with aplomb and then opened up for dramatic
moments without strain.  His baritone rises to a strong, clear head tone on
top and I was disturbed that he chose to over-weight his voice in the
Credo, taking the chest way up high.  But that soon passed and he delivered
an insinuating "Era la notte" and aced the rough stuff in his act 3 scene
with Cassio.

Ai-Lan Zhu looked, moved, and mostly sounded wonderful as Desdemona.  She,
of all the principals, suffered most from Waters' failure to let some
moments of the score breathe.  Vocally lovely though it was, her Ave Maria
lacked repose, that time-stopping quality it can have with a little care
from the pit.  One or two top tones spread under pressure during the scene
with Otello at the beginning of Act 3.  I suspect she is a lyric without
any spinto quality, although there is some discretely used chest voice and
her soprano is sizeable.  She seemed to have worked into a good
relationship with her sympathetic Emilia, Dana Fripp, and she was deeply
affecting in act 4.

Irwin Densen, Timothy Olsen and Daniel Cafiero did what they could with
Lodovico, Cassio and Roderigo given the lack of direction and provided good
vocal performances.

I find evenings like this frustrating as I do believe in opera as music AND
theater and I sense that Verdi had exactly this combination in mind in
every note of the score.  Voice-only lovers will be very happy at this
OTELLO but too many simple theatrical points were missed.  I must say,
however, that I will look forward to performances in other roles by Mr.
Villa with keen anticipation.

Bill Fregosi

William Fregosi
Technical Coordinator for Theater Arts       Ph: (617) 253-0862
Massachusetts Institute of Technology        FAX:(617) 258-7149
Building E33   77 Massachusetts Avenue       E-Mail:[log in to unmask] (office)
Cambridge, MA  02139                                [log in to unmask] (home)
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    I live through risk.  Without risk, there is no art. You should always
    be on the edge of a cliff about to fall down and break your neck.

                                                     Carlos Fuentes

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