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22 April, 2011

Otello by Verdi at Carnegie Hall Friday 15th April 2011

Otello by Verdi at Carnegie Hall Friday 15th April 2011.
Chicago Symphony Orchestra conductor: Riccardo Muti

The two best operas we heard during the month were at opposite ends of the spectrum. Comte Ory is a Rossini romp full of froth and bubble where Otello is as serious as it gets. We were indeed privileged to hear Riccardo Muti perform Otello at Carnegie Hall with his orchestra and chorus from Chicago and a group of highly talented principal singers. It was a marvellous and special performance, complimented by the near perfect acoustics of Carnegie Hall (c. 1891, seating 2800). These performances marked Muti’s return to the podium after 2 months following cardiac arrhythmia causing a collapse and serious facial injuries. After surgeries and a pacemaker he again looks his youthful and radiant self, bounding with extraordinary physical and musical energy.

The opera was stunning in every way. It was announced that Mr Aleksandrs Antonenko was under treatment for a stomach ailment and craved our indulgence. His performance as the moor was peerless. He has a big, beautiful tenor voice with the heft, depth and colour needed for this supreme operatic role. His Desdemona was played by Krassimira Stoyanova who sang the heart out of the role, again with style, power and tasteful intonation. Carlo Guelfi was a menacing Iago, starting out weakly and with a wide wobble but, like a locomotive he reigned in his powerful instrument to this long and challenging role. Unlike some other creditable singers we have heard in this role, Guelfi had all the high notes for the drinking song - and more besides. In the last note of his dramatic ‘credo’ he could not be heard due to the orchestra, something I found surprising with a conductor who is normally so sympathetic to singers.

Other roles were also well chosen with Cassio being played by a good looking young Argentinean tenor Juan Francisco Gatell who sang extremely well, despite being particularly short and having a terrible ‘mod-mess’ hair style. Barbara Di Castri played Amelia, Eric Owens played Lodovico and Michael Spyres, Roderigo. Each was admirable.

As ever in New York the audience was almost as interesting as the show. In the two rows in front of me were Bryn Terfel, Mrs Jonas Kauffman and Sarah Billinghurst of the Metropolitan Opera. The previous Otello I heard in this hall was the ill-fated return of Carlo Bergonzi in 2000. The ‘three tenors’ and many other famous people attended. Many left before the second half after the fabled tenor pulled out sick (and after giving one of the worst performances of his illustrious career – and following a reportedly magnificent dress rehearsal just the day before).

The Chicago orchestra provided an enormous chorus of perhaps 200 adults and 50 children who filled the hall with wonderful vocalisation. Apparently they all flew in for the occasion having done two performances in their home town. It demonstrates that a concert performance can be as exciting as the staged work (or even more so) and it would be almost impossible to imagine a stage which could fit this number of singers altogether in costume.

Comments by Andrew Byrne ..