Saturday, October 27, 2012

The replacement

Otello - Metropolitan Opera, 10/16/2012
Amonov, Fleming, Struckmann / Bychkov

After a dress rehearsal in which he was a bit cautious but in no particular distress, tenor Johan Botha fared poorly on Otello's opening night. His indisposition left him out of the remainder of the run -- except, perhaps, this afternoon's moviecast, surely a nerve-wracking return if it happens.

His replacement in the title role? A Russian from the Mariinsky: Avgust Amonov, who made his Met debut three days before this performance. Yes, he was pretty good. No, he's not the next _______. In fact, he (like Botha) is on the lyric side of the sing, with a nice basic sound in which one can hear the Bacchus he's sung elsewhere. But unlike Botha, Amonov doesn't have a big clarion ring to his lyric instrument, and the demands of Otello do restrict his colors and prevent big statements. Still, contrary to what you may have read elsewhere, it's a pleasant sound... or was on this night.

His other "unlike Botha"s may have been to his benefit. He's not a stand-and-sing paragraph phraser, but has some sense of dramatic character development even as a late cover. Definitely held up his end of the show, and an Otello I wouldn't mind seeing again given sufficiently good support.

Here Amonov had two amazing co-stars. Falk Struckmann seemed to me insufficiently menacing and impressive as Pizarro a dozen years back, but time has changed his capabilities. When he chews the scenery now as Iago, the vocal impact is as great as the dramatic -- and I'd love to hear his current incarnation as the Fidelio villain. Meanwhile Desdemona is still probably Renee Fleming's best operatic part, one in which she invariably finds her focus by Desdemona's great final double aria.

Bychkov's conducting depends on the moment: though he always seems to get the huge loud climaxes up, the material in between may be urgent or slack. This night, he was a bit of both, though the cast change may have thrown things off -- we'll see what happens this afternoon.

Elijah Moshinsky's revived production, like his Makropoulos Case last season and Queen of Spades the season before, brings into sharp relief the limitations of the current Gelb directorial stable.

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Absolutely no axe-grinding, please.