Shakespeare said it best “To be, or not to be, that is the question.” For the Arts that is the question of the moment. This year is going to be even more difficult than the last with non-profit organizations cutting performances and services even further just to make ends meet.
I saw that first hand Thursday night when I attended Opera Carolina’s performance of Shakespeare’s Othello, condensed to a libretto by Arrigo Boito and adapted musically by Giuseppe Verdi. Maestro Meena started the night by speaking to the audience about the importance of supporting the arts and Opera Carolina. The 2010-2011 season is going to be limited to three productions for viability.
Many would think that it’s due to outrageous production costs, performers, etc., but Opera Carolina raises seventy percent of their funding from ticket sales, with the rest being from donations. If you were to compare them with companies of comparable size, they do more with less while putting on a higher level production for less. The less is more principal certainly fits!
I learned a lot about this performance. Meastro Meena doesn’t look at a score when conducting. It is on the floor at his feet. He has learned the score, along with all the vocals for every performer. It brings a new appreciation to not only the performance, but to Maestro’s pure genius and talent.
Amazing is the only word for the back-drop used. It was rented by Opera Carolina for this performance. Made in the 1950’s, the curtains were so realistic you would have thought you were in Cyprus during the Middle Ages. It’s a shame they aren’t being manufactured anymore as it is something you have to see to believe. The craftsmanship is meticulous and eliminates the need for lengthy set changes.
Carl Tanner was sublime in the roll of Othello. After seeing him as Don Jose in Carmen, which was excellent, I do believe that the roll of Othello could have been specifically written for his melodious tenor. His soaring vocals brings a tightness to my chest that is caused by pure auditory pleasure. While he is normally quite blonde, his features disguised as that of a dark Moor were quite foreboding in his title role.
Desdemona was played by soprano Sandra Lopez. Her soaring arias and character portrayal are always spot-on. While in the role of the loving wife, she was able to take her role from blissfully happy to icy after she realizes that Othello is going to kill her for what he surmises to be her deception and adultery.
Little does Othello know, he was deceived by Iago, played by baritone Jason Howard. His hatred of Othello is unsurpassed, even as he admits that he is evil. He plants the seed of distrust in Othello by planting Desdemona’s handkerchief in Cassio’s (Jason Kern-tenor) living quarters.
After killing his bride, Othello is made aware of Iago’s deception by his wife Amelia (Martha Bartz–Mezzo Soprano). Warning everyone to stand back, the suffering groom stabs himself and with his dying breath kisses his wife one final time.
That being said, we have to remember that Othello is a noble figure of great authority, respected and admired by the duke and senate of Venice as well as by those who serve him. He is hailed as a hero, only brought down after Iago voices his explicitly stereotypical view of Othello, depicting him as animalistic, barbarous and a foolish outsider.
It was edge of the seat, breath taking majesty that leaves you wanting more. Even if you have read Othello, I would suggest that you see it performed in this setting. The story truly comes alive and you are left wanting to re-read Shakespeare with a new knowledge and appreciation.