The lasting legacy of Shakespeare resides in part on his relevance to more modern times. Even though his plays deal with events hundreds of years ago, each succeeding generation finds new insight in his work. That is at the heart of Verdi’s love of Shakespeare: he adapted Macbeth, Falstaff and Othello into operas. The latter, under its Italian name Otello, is being performed this weekend by Austin Opera. Verdi composed Otello in 1877, based on The Bard’s play of 1603.
Otello was a warlord of the island of Cyprus, under the direction of the Doge of Venice. Otello is portrayed here by Issachah Savage, who will be offering a vocal class in Austin on Nov 13 (see below). His authoritative tenor voice is ideally suited to the role. This gets showcased several times, notable in the angst-riven aria after the tragic breakup between him and his wife Desdemona. It is at the beginning of Act 3, and is done with great intensity and pathos.
The long-suffering Desdemona is sung with heartbreaking sincerity by soprano Marina Costa-Jackson. Her nemesis, Iago, is given just the right degree of chilling depravity by baritone Michael Chioldi. They are superbly supported by Derek Taylor (tenor), Elise Quagliata (mezzo-soprano), Evan Boyer (bass), Chris Carr (tenor), Matthew Arnold (bass) and Austin Siebert (baritone). It is not surprising the industry publication Opera Wire chose this performance as one of the top 5 opera events in America this month.
This is not a fully staged opera, however. The singers are disappointingly dressed in black, the men in suits or tuxedos. Considering the lack of a stage set (the Austin Opera Orchestra and Chorus is on stage) ditching the wardrobe as well seemed a step too far. I know some people did not stay for the final two acts, but overall it was nearly a full house at the Long Center and applause was justifiably sustained at the conclusion of this gripping performance.
We have moved on four centuries from the play Othello, but its relevance is still strong. Otello the man is shown to be full of false bravado, with a mind easily swayed into believing conspiracy theories whispered into his ear by a close advisor (a “primeval slime” by his own admission). In the fate of Desdemona we can see the fate of a free press, unfairly accused by the leader of being the enemy. Otello holds up a mirror for us to look at in 2018.
Issachah Savage will lead the Master Class event on Nov. 13 at 630pm. The Master Class allows UT students to work with an internationally recognized performer. The public is invited to attend and see a Master of the voice work with singers, touching on subjects of musicality, the mechanics of singing, and what it is like to perform on stage. This is a great opportunity for anyone who has ever wondered how our singers do what they do. Contact Austin Opera Office for details.
For more about local opera productions, visit www.austinopera.org