Straightforward Otello from the Met

In 2015 the Metropolitan Opera premiered a new production of Verdi’s Otello directed by Bartlett Sher.  It was broadcast in the Met in HD series and subsequently released on Blu-ray and DVD.  It’s a bit hard to judge the production on video because of the video direction.  I don’t think there are any big ideas but it’s decorative enough with arrangements and rearrangements of plexiglass wall/rooms and some effective video projections for things like the storm scene.  Only Act 4 breaks the mould with a sparse stage with just a bed and a few chairs.  I strongly suspect though from the occasional wide angle shot that there was a lot more going on visually than one sees on the video.  Costumes are 19th centuryish and quite decorative.


The strength of this recording though is in the performances. Alexandrs Antonenko gives a much more nuanced performance in the title role than he did in his Salzburg recording and the result is a robustly sung but dramatically satisfying portrayal of Otello.  Sonya Yoncheva is simply gorgeous as Desdemona.  She’s excellent throughout but heartbreaking in Act 4 where her two big numbers are really quite beautiful.  Želko Lučič is convincingly villainous as Iago without descending into melodramatic moustache twirling.  There’s much to like too in Dmitri Pittas’ Cassio and, especially, Gunther Groissböck’s Olympian Lodovico.


Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducts and gets a sound from the orchestra which alternates thrilling and limpidly beautiful.  The chorus is lovely too.  Of course it’s a much bigger chorus than in most houses and the sound is suitably grand.


The fly in the ointment is Gary Halvorson’s video direction.  It’s typical of his work on the MetHD broadcasts.  It’s heavy on close-ups and camera angles are often not at all what one might see in the house.  The result is distracting and I’m not sure it serves the production well.  On DVD the picture is OK most of the time but many scenes are quite dark and I wish I had had a chance to see the Blu-ray.  The same goes for the sound.  Both stereo and DTS surround tracks are quite good but the sound seems a little compressed in the big choral scenes.


There’s the usual MetHD bonus material on the disc which really doesn’t help one’s understanding.  I guess they fill in the long intervals in the movie theatre but seem a waste of time at home.  The booklet has a track listing and synopsis but no explanatory material.  Subtitle options are English, French, German and Italian.


If one wants a beautifully sung traditional Otello and one doesn’t mind Halvorson’s video direction this is a pretty good bet though I’d definitely go with Blu-ray rather than DVD.  It’s certainly much better than Antonenko’s earlier recording.  For my taste though I’ll take the more penetrating production from the Salzburg Osterfestspiel with José Cura, and Dorothea Röschmann.


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