Wednesday 3rd May 2000
A sad event indeed. Carlo Bergonzi's late return to the stage as the Moor in Otello was unedifying. This may be the first serious error of judgement for the wonderful Eve Queller whose 'risk taking' is legendary as leader of the Opera Orchestra of New York.
Having sung pitiably in Acts I and II, which were run together, the 75 year old hopeful retired 'indisposed'. Bergonzi's voice had some pleasant middle register notes but highs and lows were not comfortable and in some cases completely inaudible. The 'Esultate ..' was flawed only because he chose to sing the final ornament which simply did not come off. Another high note cracked in the next scene while one long, held high note was almost a whole semi-tone flat. Several notes in 'Ora e per sempre addio..' were then simply sung an octave lower to avoid the high parts. As if using a 'crystal set', he clutched his left ear before each high note or phrase, only then to sing most of them quite flat. It was undignified and painful.
After an over-long intermission, Carlo Bergonzi was replaced by Antonio Barasorda who sang beautifully. He clearly knew the part, casting aside the music stand and just delivering Otello as the part should be sung. He had apparently sung in Tosca, Carmen and Turandot at the City Opera in the early 1990s according to a local I spoke to.
Kallen Esperian as Desdemona was simply impeccable. Her performance was stylish and graceful. Iago was to have been Leo Nucci but Alberto Gazale sang at short notice in his absence, singing well and possibly receiving the biggest ovation. Jianyi Zhang was also a fine Cassio. The supporting singers, chorus, children and orchestra were all 'first class'.
The orchestra played well and there were several innovations with the trumpets marking the return of the messenger from Venice played from the auditorium, left, right and rear. The rustic villagers' and children's chorus in honour of Desdemona was played to the accompaniment of 3 'strummed strings': a guitar and two other banjo or ukulele-type instruments.
But the night was auspicious in several other respects. All three of the 'three tenors' appeared for the event and occupied a box. Domingo had sung Sigmund the night before. They were all rehearsing a Met Gala of one act each from Carmen, Andrea Chenier and Turandot. Pavarotti sat at the back, chatting didactically to Carreras during the long intermission. After the announcement before act 3, they all left but Domingo returned to join his partner in their original seats. I was told that Licia Albanese, Aprile Millo, Anna Moffo and Lucine Amara were also in the audience.
I would commend this attempt, but suggest that the ends of careers often coincide with the beginnings of others. There will probably be more pluses than minuses from the night's debacle.