The Metropolitan Opera kicked off its new season this week with a new production of Verdi’s late masterpiece “Otello” directed by Bartlett Sher (“South Pacific,” “The King and I”), whose Broadway revival of “Fiddler on the Roof” begins previews in two months.
While Sher is best known for his traditionally-staged but sharp Broadway revivals of musical theater classics, he has also directed five operas at the Met over the past decade, the most successful being his crowd-pleasing “The Barber of Seville.”
Before opening night, the Met made news with the announcement that Latvian tenor Aleksandrs Antonenko, who plays the title role, would not wear any kind of “blackface” makeup. In retrospect, it’s mind-boggling that the practice continued for so long at the opera house. On the contrary, it would be unthinkable today for a Caucasian actor to appear in “blackface” while doing the Shakespeare play.
With expert conducting by Yannick Nézet-Séguin, Sher’s production is tightly focused and often gripping, emphasizing the psychological warfare unleashed by Iago upon Otello and its tragic effects on Otello’s relationship with wife Desdemona. However, the large chorus, which stands around blankly whenever it joins the principal singers, could use some guidance.
It employs a shape-shifting set full of clear walls that looks like Elsa’s ice castle in “Frozen.” Whether the transparent design makes sense, it certainly looks trendy.
Video imagery is also employed at the start to convey a raging storm.
Antonenko has a striking physical presence and a powerful voice, but he is not much of an actor. He can convey Otello’s blunt confidence and rage, but not his desperation or sorrow.
By comparison, Zeljko Lucic has a persuasive ease as Iago, and Sonya Yoncheva is a terrific Desdemona, assertive and tender and vocally pristine.
If you go: “Otello” plays at the Metropolitan Opera at Lincoln Center Plaza through May 6. metopera.org.