Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Emerging Pictures: "Otello" at the Movies

On February 11, Denver theatergoers were treated to another cinematic opera courtesy of Emerging Pictures and the folks at the Northfield Harkins movie complex, located at I-70 and Quebec. This was Giuseppe Verdi’s crowning dramatic masterpiece, Otello, direct from the 2008 Salzburg Festival and conducted by Riccardo Muti—acclaimed by most aficionados as the top Verdi expert to currently lift a baton. Directed by Stephen Langridge and with sets by George Souglides, the production from the heart of Mozart country left little doubt that this work deserves to be on every opera fan’s Top Five list. Poet Arrigo Boito (himself a failed opera composer) collaborated closely with Verdi to craft a libretto that actually improves on the Bard’s stage play—reducing the number of principals and condensing the action into four tightly wound acts (running time equals 140 minutes), all while retaining every bit of tension, pathos, suspicion, and terror.

Without exception, the singing here was first-rate. Latvian tenor Aleksandrs Antonenko is practically unknown on this side of the Atlantic—he made his Met debut last March in Rusalka alongside Renée Fleming—but the 34-year-old is making a name for himself throughout Europe by singing some of the most difficult roles around. Otello is one of them, a stamina-draining character in one of the most dramatic grand operas ever written. He will be a major force in this field, if he doesn’t burn out too quickly. Russian soprano Marina Poplavskaya sang Desdemona with the proper amount of love-turned-to-despair. Her rendition of Verdi’s Ave Maria just prior to her death at the hands of her husband was heart-stoppingly beautiful. But the one singer whose appearance was as riveting as the character he played was Carlos Alvarez. Not only was his Iago pitch-perfect, but his onstage presence conveyed the proper sense of menace Shakespeare clearly intended when creating this character. In what is sometimes a throwaway role, Stephen Costello was superb as Cassio and should definitely enjoy some headlining in the very near future.

The only annoyance during the cinecast involved the camera director calling for an overabundance of ECU—extreme close-up—shots, which resulted in two unfortunate consequences. The first was the inability to enjoy whatever else was happening at the time, including reaction shots of the other actors as well as crowd movement and an overarching sense of staging. The second was the literal “in your face” perspiration that proved a bit too personal. Without a doubt, Antonenko had to undergo a complete redo of his face makeup between acts, considering the amount of schvitzing he did while he was singing.

Six more Emerging Pictures productions remain on this season’s Harkins Northfield calendar, beginning with the ballet Don Quixote on February 25. Bizet’s Carmen makes an appearance on March 18, a La Scala production with Anita Rachvelishvili as the title character and a couple of Euro-hotties (Jonas Kaufmann as Don José; Erwin Schrott as Escamillo) in the starring male roles. The next opera to be reviewed on this blog will be April 15’s Il Trovatore from Barcelona, conducted by Marco Armiliato. All programs begin at 7:00 p.m.

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