ALBUM TITLE: Verdi
PERFORMER: Aleksandrs Antonenko, Sonya Yoncheva, Zeljko Lucic; Metropolitan Opera Chorus & Orchestra/Yannick Nézet-Séguin; dir. Bartlett Sher (New York, 2015)
CATALOGUE NO: 88985308909
Bartlett Sher’s production of Verdi’s Otello was recorded in October 2015, nearly a month after opening night. It’s set in the early 19th century: in the opening scene, numerous male chorus members (dressed in the darkest shades by costume designer Catherine Zuber) wear bicornes – a type of hat most readily associated with Napoleon.
A successful Broadway director increasingly active at the Met, Sher’s show is respectably stage-savvy, if not exactly deep. A feature of Es Devlin’s stark, sombre sets are monumental transparent interiors which move on or off stage to create specific locations. Striking projections help create the storm, as well as hinting at the psychological disturbance that will eventually destroy both Desdemona and Otello himself. Overall Sher’s direction is grandiose but generally well-acted, even if Aleksandrs Antonenko’s hero proves a bit of a stick. Vocally, he proves solid if unsubtle, his voice often thrilling yet equally metallic, and with a worrying tendency to wobble. eljko Lucic’s unsmiling Iago manages to convey the character’s deceptive bluffness, suggesting an individual who plans ahead, though once again it’s a broad-brush-stroke interpretation. The finest of the three principals is rising star Bulgarian Sonya Yoncheva, whose soaring soprano pours out endlessly rich and impeccably fine tone in a superb demonstration of lyric artistry. Dimitri Pittas sounds stressed as Cassio.
On stage the show may be vocally and dramatically mixed, but conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin, who was announced as the company’s music-director designate eight months later, offers an account focused in detail and clear in overview.