Verdi was in retirement when his publisher, Ricordi, induced him (against his will) to write yet another opera. Working with the librettist Arrigo Boito, Verdi produced the four-act Otello, based on Shakespeare's play of the same name. It premiered at La Scala in 1887 and at the Met in 1891.
The performance I saw on April 28th was the 336th performance of this opera at the Met. This Bartlett Sher production was conducted by Adam Fischer, with Zeljko Lucic as Iago, Aleksandrs Antonenko as Otello, and Hibla Gerzmava as Desdemona. Antonenko has a radiant tenor voice, but he seemed to be suffering from allergies or a cold on this particular night, as his voice gave out (subtly) during a few casual moments -- but the high notes were all there despite this.
This production stands out for introducing a new development in Otello's performance history -- the lead character was not wearing dark make-up to emphasize his Moorishness. Instead, we got a non-African, Caucasian-complexioned Otello. Some people in the audience thought it was ridiculous to break with performance practice in this way. I didn't much care one way or the other, since it was the first time I saw this opera, and I really had no prior experience or expectations to compare it to.
Overall, my favorite piece of the night was Desdemona's haunting "Willow Song," with its ghostly, cradling melody. Regarding the main character, I understand that Shakespeare's Otello is complicated and nuanced, but his operatic parallel comes across as being so malleable and prone to manipulation, that one at times questions his intelligence. You wonder why he can be so quick to fall prey to Iago's malicious suggestions, when just an act ago he was wildly, deeply in love with his saintly wife. Perhaps opera's time constrictions make it an ill-suited medium for portraying certain complex psychological transformations.
More interesting of course is Iago, with his belief in a cruel God -- only I think the modern-day Iago would declare that God doesn't exist (not that being an atheist means a person lacks a moral center). But I think the modern-day Iago would just be your run-of-the-mill psychopath -- a very smart, calculating person, who accepts the obvious truths of life, and will go after his particular malicious goals to satisfy predatory desires.
Overall, this was a good night of theatre. I thoroughly enjoyed the music, which historically, is considered a precursor to verismo -- and having the privilege of sitting in row D, I was close enough to be totally absorbed in the acting, of which I especially appreciated Lucic's Iago.