Theater Reviews



L.A. Opera, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion
Through March 9

In the battle between good and evil, there's usually a hero, a villain and a victim.

In Verdi's next-to-last opera, "Otello," the character traits are bestowed on the three leading players. Beloved, despised, misled, betrayed, duped and scorned are the associated adjectives.

Faithfully based on Shakespeare's great tragedy, the opera begins as the Moor of Venice (Ian Storey), in the full flush of military triumph and having survived a killer storm, disembarks with his beloved young wife, Desdemona (Elena Evseeva), to take up his new post as the governor of Cypress. Otello's ensign, Iago (Mark Delavan), overlooked for a captaincy that went to Cassio (Derek Taylor), would like to see Otello's power undermined by the reality, or fabrication, of his young bride's infidelity. The knives are out.

In a contemporary context, the themes of love, power, jealousy, despair, hate, rage and revenge remain universal ones; the power of Verdi's music speaks to the belief that opera should be heard as well as seen, and preferably experienced.

Conductor James Conlon leads the L.A. Opera Orchestra through the fluctuating emotions with a flawlessly sensitive baton. As Otello, Storey, a British tenor who started as a carpenter and builder, is proving that he has the bricks and mortar well in place for the foundation of a tremendous career as an opera great. His characterization is a deeply emotional interpretation that shakes an audience into visceral belief, especially played against a clear-voiced soprano, a sweetly uncluttered Evseeva, who replaced Cristina Gallardo-Domas as Desdemona in the opening performance at very short notice.

Delavan creates a mean Iago, who is devoutly to be feared for his representation of jealousy, duplicity and pure evil (especially in his Gestapo-like costume). A huge chorus of sailors, Cypriots and children takes several minutes to reach the stage between final curtains, but it's a wow! moment when the audience gets the full impact of the size of this stirring production.

Johan Engels' swooping curved deck, with its tall mast, atop of which Otello makes his first entrance, is a clever work of art and design, as well as providing a tenuous balancing act for the performers. But maybe Engels should rethink what place a mast and a slanting deck have in Desdemona's bedroom.

L.A. Opera, the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion
Composer: Giuseppe Verdi
Libretto: Arrigo Boito
Based on the play by: William Shakespeare
Conductor: James Conlon
Director: John Cox
Set/costume designer: Johan Engels
Original lighting designer: Wolfgang Goebbel
Lighting designer: Simon Corder
Los Angeles Opera concert master: Stuart Canin
Associate conductor/chorus master: Grant Gershon
Los Angeles Children's Chorus artistic director: Anne Tomlinson
Cassio: Derek Taylor
Mantano: Ryan McKinny
Iago: Mark Delavan
Otello: Ian Storey
Roderigo: Gregory Warren
Desdemona: Elena Evseeva (replacement for Cristina Gallardo-Domas)
Emilia: Ning Liang
A Herald: Matthew Moore
Ludovico: Eric Halfvarson