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By Joel Kasow

NEW YORK, 22 FEBRUARY 2013 — Televising opera is not an easy task, particularly when the principals are not especially known for their expressivity, thereby robbing closeups of their force. The Met’s Otello in HD offers a case in point. Despite a powerful reading from conductor Semyon Bychkov and lucid staging by Elijah Moshinsky, the impassive Otello of Johan Botha lacks the animal quality that so distinguished the performances of Mario del Monaco, John Vickers or James McCracken, to cite some distinguished predecessors. Musically he cannot be faulted as he has the strength for the explosive moments but also the ability to sing lyrically when required.

Renée Fleming (Desdemona) and Johan Botha (Otello)
Photo: PBS

Falk Struckmann’s Iago is another victim of the close-up, as his manner of singing does not add to his characterization, though he otherwise is convincing in his movements. Renée Fleming’s Desdemona is a thoroughly professional job, as we have come to expect, her face mobile, her singing mostly exquisite except when she inserts a "bluesy" inflection. Michael Fabiano seems to be baffled by the close-ups but he is otherwise quite photogenic and may learn to be more at home as his career progresses. James Morris was far from imposing as Lodovico, the voice tired and lacking in authority. The remaining singers were at a level we have come to expect from the Met, but this is one performance that does not especially benefit from the camera’s close inspection.

Great Performances: Otello at the Met
Otello, Verdi's tragedy of love and jealousy, airs Sunday 24 February 2013 at 12 noon on PBS (check local listings).

Joel Kasow is the Operanet editor at Culturekiosque. He has been opera critic for Opera (U.K.) and Opera News (U.S.A.) for over thirty years and was elected to the International Music Critics Association (UNESCO) in 1996.

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