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There was the preshow visual feast in the lobby—a huge, glamorous crush of tuxedos and gowns locked in a feeding frenzy over the hors d'oeuvres.
Then, the crackling storm that opens the opera, drenching the audience in lightening flashes and choral might. It was just like the downpour everyone had weathered to get there.
And, finally, the surprise appearance of general director Anthony Freud, taking the stage after the first act to announce that the show's Iago, bass-baritone Falk Struckmann, was suffering from "severe allergies" and wouldn't be able to continue the performance. Not to worry, however, after a few minutes' delay—enough time, say, to jump into a costume—the curtain would open on act two, with understudy Todd Thomas in the stricken man's role.
Thomas did well under these awkward circumstances. But the evil Iago is the most interesting character in the opera, and Struckmann looked to be the most compelling actor among the three leads. Once he was gone, we were left with some very nice singing and a notable lack of chemistry. Tenor Johan Botha's Otello was a grand voice trapped in blimp, while soprano Ana Maria Martinez's sweet Desdemona was pretty much stuck in clueless ingenue mode.
Otello is a tough opera to pull off. Especially without a great Iago to anchor it, the whole thing—even Verdi's expressive score—can topple into clumsy domestic melodrama. By the end of act three, you could see it happening. And this revival of a Peter Hall production, conducted by Bertrand de Billy, isn't helped by John Gunter's muted sets and costumes, which appear to move the 15th-century story into the Napoleonic era, for no obvious reason.
So, a relatively soggy opening night.
But maybe Struckmann will recover and get his devil on: a Lyric spokesperson said Monday that he's expected to do the seven remaining performances—the next is tomorrow at 7:30 PM—through November 2.
If you get there, check out the memorial tribute to longtime artistic director Bruno Bartoletti in the downstairs lounge.