The Teatro La Fenice has a history with Japan since 2001, when it first visited Tokyo with two productions (La Traviata, with Dimitra Theodossiou and Ambrogio Maestri, and Simon Boccanegra, with Lucia Mazzaria and Fabio Sartori), repeating the experience once more in 2005 (Attila, again with Dimitra Theodossiou, La Traviata, with Patrizia Ciofi and Roberto Saccà, and Les Pêcheurs de Perles, with Annick Massis) only to come back now for one opera and concerts with operatic excerpts.
This year, the main item in the program is the staged performance of Verdi’s Otello with an international cast and conductor Myung-Whun Chung, whose recording with Cheryl Studer and Plácido Domingo with the forces of the Opéra de Paris for Deutsche Grammophon is a recommended item in the discography. The Korean conductor proved again that he knows this score very well, focusing, as in his CDs, in orchestral coloring and forward movement. The orchestra from Venice is less impressive than the Opéra Bastille’s in studio, but woodwind and brass gave adept and expressive contributions to a perfectible string section that could nonetheless produce the varied sonorities requested by the maestro. It is hard to tell if the lighter textures are a side-effect to the conductor’s coloristic approach or a necessity due to a lightweight cast.
Gregory Kunde, for instance, is a name one would rather associate with Rossini’s Otello, but since his Enée in Gardiner’s Les Troyens in Paris, the American tenor has flirted with heavier repertoire. He is probably the lighter-toned Otello I have ever heard. Even Luciano Pavarotti in Georg Solti’s recording from Chicago sounds richer in comparison. That does not mean that he had any problem in being heard this evening – his finely focused, bright-toned tenor pierces through thicker orchestral textured without effort. The fact that he is used to high-lying roles made some very tricky passages – act II’s amore e gelosia vadan dispersi insieme!, for instance – unproblematic in comparison to almost every tenor in this role, but, for the same reasons, his low register sounded a couple of sizes too slim. He is a musicianly singer, attentive to dynamic shading, and has very clear diction. He does not really have any wildness in him and his Otello was often less than convincing when he had to sound fierce. When Desdemona said that she was hearing a fury speaking through his voice, she must have used her imagination. However, he could produce the necessary intensity and despair in quieter passages such as Dio! mi potevi scagliar or in a very expressive death scene.
His Desdemona, American soprano Leah Crocetto, has a very interesting, almost endearingly old-fashioned big lyric soprano voice. Although there are moments when the tonal quality is a bit saccharine and grainy, she is adept when things get more difficult – she can float beautiful mezza voce, has reserves of power in “lirico spinto” moments and has beautiful legato. At this point, she would rather be labelled a “promising name”, but, if she lives up to the promise, she could be an interesting name for roles who are usually cast with less generous vocal natures.
Lucio Gallo is hardly a force of nature as Iago, but he is a very presentable one nonetheless, provided you adjust to relatively reduced volume. His baritone is more pleasant on the ear than I remembered and he uses the text subtly and effectively.
To say the truth, if the performance actually was rather underwhelming, I would rather blame Francesco Micheli’s superficial and overbusy production that concentrates rather on kitsch effects (how about a bunch of guys in skeleton-bodysuits piercing Otello with swords during Dio! mi potevi scagliar?) than in actually directing singers who were rather “now-I-take-off-my-shoe-and-recline-on-that-pillow” than really acting. To make things worse, the sets required lots of operation and showed dubious taste (zodiac patterns, starlit-sky lamps, red-and-blue lighting, tons of golden foil…). Act IV alone was so schmaltzy (Desdemona’s ghost wondering around and leading Otello to their postmortem love idyll) that one had to close one’s eyes to actually feel moved by the music.