12 February 2008

moor is less

Renee Fleming's Desdemona returns to the Met after a dozen years of absence. This Otello would have been magnitudes better had she brought back Placido Domingo, James Morris, and James Levine as well. I don't care if Domingo doesn't sing Otello any longer. The role needs a Man to sing it. Johan Botha has a lovely sound, but lyrical to a fault. I swear he drew out a faggy falsetto or two during his love duet with Renee. With such overt prettiness, Botha's Otello just isn't scary crazy enough. And for Iago, another Man. Not a barker who I've yet to hear emit an elegant legato. About the only thing going for Carlo Guelfi is his stark, baritonal name. If I were a baritone, I'd choose that name too. Carlo Guelfi-- the name practically seduces you off your negligee. But alas, in our metrics-obsessed world, you actually need something to back it up. Like a voice, which Mr. Guelfi has absolutely none. Last and least, there's Maestro Semyon Bychkov, who led a dry, unsentimental, nearly absent orchestra. Again, among Levine's genius is his ability to set a mood for every scene, and to know how to transition with Hollywood polish. I still hold with much admiration the Otellos from three years ago (Frittoli, Heppner), when Levine seamlessly wove the discete compact musical pellets of Act I, for instance, with the ease of a natural storyteller. By the end of that short act, I was in the same starlight that adorned the lovers' embrace. It is utterly magical to be so transported and transformed. Maestro Bychkov, on the other hand, had little concern for the jagged boundaries of Otello, having no design but to barrel through the score in thick, straight lines.

Renee Fleming, as usual, saved the evening. All the elements were on ravishing display. Her chest tones were particularly thrilling this time (lots during the Act III confrontation with Otello, esp. on "quella parola orrEEEEEEEEnda!") and her soft singing still without peer: on lavish display in the cavatina in the reception scene, and of course during her touching bedside soliloquy. Earlier, her love duet shimmered, despite the unconscious conducting. Yes, there are now traces of age here and there, but the good news is that she is "maturing" exceptionally well. She will be singing like this for the next 10-15 years! This is my delightful news.