Opéra de Montréal’s Otello as unique as it is powerful

Hiromi Omura as Desdemona in Opera de Montreal's Otello. Photo: Yves Renaud

Hiromi Omura as Desdemona in Opera de Montreal’s Otello. Photo: Yves Renaud

Montreal winters are long and often brutal, but cocooning is not the answer. There is so much to do and finding your pleasure (and savouring it), beats complaining about the weather.

Opera is an acquired taste but, as we discovered last month, there is nothing that compares to it: a story with glorious music and majestic voices, theatrical staging, period costumes, and, in the case of Opéra de Montréal, a full orchestra. The very fact that it has survived as an art form in our hyper realistic environment is a testament to its unique characteristics and enduring value.

It was a last-minute decision, and tickets for Verdi’s Otello – a new coproduction by Opéra de Montréal and Pacific Opera Victoria – were almost sold out. Media passes were no longer available, so we made the big leap— we bought loge seats at $164.45 each for our first opera excursion since attending the wonderful Budapest Opera House way back when.

The opera, regarded by some as the greatest tragedy in the Italian repertoire, is based on Shakespeare’s masterpiece. Try to imagine his courage and creative genius in turning a dark-skinned man of African origin, Othello the Moor – its etymology is the Greek word Mavro, meaning black or blacked – into a heroic figure. His tragic flaw is jealousy over an imagined affair between his beloved Desdemona and his captain, Cassio. The sub-text is his insecurity at holding prince-like status in a white European context, manipulated by the evil Iago.

Iago promises Roderigo, who had fallen in love with Desdemona while Othello was fighting the Turks, that he will find a way to destroy Othello, and enable him to consummate his love for Desdemona.

Arrigo Boito crafted the libretto. Italy’s greatest master of operatic composition, Verdi considered himself retired, even after the success of Aida and his Requiem Mass, when he wrote the score.

Kristian Benedikt in Opera de Montreal's Otello. Photo: Yves Renaud

Kristian Benedikt in Opera de Montreal’s Otello. Photo: Yves Renaud

Sung in Italian, the supra titles of the lyrics in French and English greatly enhanced the experience. The lead voices – Kristian Benedikt (Otello), Himori Omura (Desdemona), Aris Argiris (Iago), and Antoine Bélanger (Cassio) – gave life and texture to the characters. The set was simple, and the period costumes designed to set the scenes in their time and place, but not to overwhelm. Keri-Lynn Wilson directed the Montreal Symphony Orchestra and the Opéra de Montréal Choir with skillful authority—full and powerful when called for, but controlled so as to enhance, not overwhelm the soloists.

This was the third production of the season, with Puccini’s Madame Butterfly and Strauss’s Elektra presented in the fall.

From May 21-28, the season closes with Les Feluettes (Lilies), by Quebec playwright Michel Marc Bouchard and Australian composer Kevin March. It is a world premiere, featuring baritone Étienne Dupuis and tenor Jean-Michel Richer, both trained at the Atelier lyrique of the Opéra de Montréal.

The synopsis: Set in 1952, a group of prisoners led by Simon confine a bishop named Bilodeau as they perform a play for him about events 40 years earlier when Simon and Bilodeau were classmates in Roberval. The goal is to get the confined Bilodeau to admit to having committed a crime for which Simon was convicted, at a time when he was in love with Vallier de Tilly, a ruined French aristocrat exiled to Quebec.

This is another Opéra de Montréal-Pacific Opera Victoria co-commission. Tickets cost $58.75 to $148.25, including taxes and fees. We plan to attend.

operademontreal.com, 514-985-2258.


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