Moor or Less
Sam Shirakawa was in Heidelberg recently for a performance of Verdi's Otello. Also, he pays tribute to Yakov Kreizberg who passed away recently at only 51....:
VERDI: OTELLO [New Production]Heidelberg Oper18 March 2011
"The production is awful," he muttered in crisp Hochdeutsch.
That verdict was issued by an astute observer of cultural matters at the premiere of a new production of Verdi’s Otello at the Heidelberg Oper.
And the performance had only reached half-time.
When the proceedings finally concluded, though, the sold-out house greeted director Alexander Fahima with relative politesse. Only one loud boo -- possibly uttered by a wannabe claque to instigate a furor.
No such luck.
In a well-distributed interview, Fahima says he’s putting Iago at the forefront of the action as sort of a behavioral scientist, who uses the Moor and his consort as guinea pigs in an experiment on jealousy. Sounds reasonable enough. Fahima‘s view of Iago looks back to Don Alfonso (Cosí fan Tutti) and forward to Henry Higgins (My Fair Lady via Pygmalion). But he fouls his petri dish by plopping in Bob (All that Jazz) Fosse-esque routines (choreographed by Michael Bernhard), plus a bewildering variety of semi-modern costumes (Reinhard von Thannen), which in themselves would probably work marvelously anywhere else.
In a cringing, goofy moment set within Bart Wigger’s grim sliding-door closet that runs the length of the stage, Otello makes his first appearance in a striped silver and black zoot suit straight out of a strutters’ ballroom circa late 1950s. The production team is not about to allow their Lion of Venice let his attire go to waste, and so the poor sod, who dances neither wisely nor well, promptly lapses into a momentary Mummers’ Parade turn, in which I fully expected a snatch of “Razzle-Dazzle” from Chicago:
What if your hinges all are rusting?Shakespeare and Verdi‘s librettist Arrigo Boito eventually intervene and, mercifully, force an end to the ill-conceived experiment, once Otello perceives Desdemona’s kerchief as proof of her infidelity. If Iago were indeed a scientist, he would have any number of ways to continue acting scientifically, even from this point onward. But the exigencies of the plot preclude any such action. So we‘re back to the same-old-same-old Iago as a misanthropic closet chocolate-chaser with unkind intentions.
What if, in fact, you're just disgusting?
Given the evidence he presents in his Heidelberg experimentations, 30-or-so year-old stage director Alexander Fahima is neither Wunderkind nor enfant terrible nor Student Prince. His most dazzling credential is autumnal youth.
If there’s any reason for trekking to Heidelberg, though, it’s to be able to say someday soon, that you heard Texan Ray M. Wade as Otello back when.... His Moor is still in progress, but the vocal material is there -- brilliance in the upper regions, depth in the middle, and weight in the lower areas. First-night fright may have prevented him from going full-throttle in the “Esultate,” but the smoldering rage and tragic remorse that followed were all in full furl. This was Wade’s first Otello. I have little doubt that it soon will be as fine as his Samson was, two seasons ago in Cologne.
It’s hard to say much about Michael Bachtadze‘s Iago because his interpretation was saddled with the dispassion demanded by the role’s supposed calling as a scientist/philosopher. Still, his baritone has a big, warm sound that shows no effort in animating the immense Verdi line.
Hye-Sung Na is a vulnerable and vocally gifted Desdemona, but she needs to explore her character with the same intensity she applies to singing the notes accurately. Despite some infelicities of intonation, hers is a huge voice that sounds rewardingly like ante-Levine Scotto. It’s tempting to speculate what roles she might eventually assume.
Carolyn Fink (Emilia) and Aaron Judisch (Cassio) distinguish themselves in a solid cast rounded out by Eleazar Rodriguez (Rodrigo), Wilfred Staber (Ludovico) and Amadeu Tasca (Montano/Herold).
Cornelius Meister’s pacing struck me as a tad rushed in the first scene and in the third act, but maybe he wanted to get past the embarrassing shenanigans on stage. As I’ve reported on his Salome last season, he is a bonafide wonder, drawing once again some exciting, nicely textured playing from the orchestra, absent a smudgy incident among the double basses in the third act. He was ably assisted by Jan Schweiger, who exacted discipline and spontaneity from the chorus and children’s choir.
As if the production team were compelled to impose itself even on aural matters, the premiere was marred by the whir of ventilators and cooling machinery for the lighting apparatus. Desdemona's Willow Song and Ave Maria were filtered through what sounded like an encroaching sandstorm.
Now a final farewell to an extraordinary musician, felled before his time. Yakov Kreizberg was 51 years old when he succumbed this month to a long illness. Although his talent was arguably commensurate with some conductors who have achieved world fame early in their careers, Kreizberg was still, as Stephen Sondheim might muse, putting it together. I was always amazed at how he unceasingly amplified his now inestimable gifts whenever I attended his performances, mostly during his tenure as Music Director of Berlin‘s Komische Oper. Details of his way with certain passages recur to me all the time: the longing he elicited from the violins in the ‘Dammi Alfredo’ theme in the Prelude to Traviata, the moonlit vapor he cast on ‘Il dolce suono’ with Naomi Nadelmann as Lucia, the irrepressible optimism with which he concluded his reading of Die Zauberflöte.
Yakov Kreisberg - ©Marcus Borggreve &
Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra
Kreizberg made several recordings, notably with the violinist Julia Fischer, but those I have heard fall pale before his live performances. Like Guido Cantelli long ago, he will forever remain one of the music world's rathe primroses, dying while sounding a crescendo above the whelming tide.
©Sam H. Shirakawa