Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

Moor Dies of Heartbreak

February 27, 2008

Ian Storey and Cristina Gallardo-Domas
Photo: Robert Millard/LAO 2008

Let me start by saying that the LA Opera production of Verdi’s Otello currently on stage through March 9 is worth seeing. It’s probably not as crucial in the overall scheme of things as their production of Zemlinsky’s Der Zwerg that is running opposite it, but it has its own charms. Not the least of these is another class act from music directory James Conlon, whom I waxed eloquently over just a few days ago. Having already heard him lead Don Carlos and Traviata in 2006, I feel confident in saying we have an exemplary conductor of Verdi’s works on our hands here. It is ironic that while Conlon is marshalling through some very big and significant German repertory for LA over the next few years, he is equally dazzling in bringing the requisite motion and dynamic pacing to the works of the Italian master. Now if we could just get some casts that are more consistently up to his standard.

Of course, for Otello, it’s not like they didn’t try. Two of the three principals come with recent major casting credentials under their belts – only neither worked out so well for them in the end. The Desdemona, Cristina Gallardo-Domas, starred as Puccini’s Butterfly in the new production that opened Peter Gelb’s glorious revitalization of the Metropolitan Opera in 2006; and Ian Storey, here as Otello, opened a new Tristan for La Scala under Daniel Barenboim to open the current season in December 2007. Both were savaged by critics for these appearances creating some mixed expectations for them in their debuts on these shores. My inclination when reading this kind of press is to give these people a break. Still, I must admit to being somewhat disappointed. It is true that Storey doesn’t quite have the heft to pull this all off without his Otello just seeming comically depressed along the way. He looks like he’s really working hard up there, which can be a bad thing. Gallardo-Domas is fine but she strikes me as a bit of a gulper when it comes to her vocal lines. Still, her “willow song” wasn’t shabby and she is a serviceable actor. The one true vocal star of the evening was Mark Delavan who grabs the stage from all parties in his wake throughout and received the most admiration from the audience. On a side note, Derek Taylor is the Cassio here and, though a little underpowered, holds his own against the others and is one worth watching in the future. He's also way cuter on stage than in his head shot which is always a nice surprise.

The production is nice, but not brilliant. It has a visual style in the large scooped stage designed by Johan Engels, and director John Cox keeps the on-stage histrionics to a minimum. The set is colorful with some large set elements including a ship’s mast that appears both at the outset and the conclusion of the piece. But while it isn’t bad looking, I thought it all rather tame as if it was too eager to get out of everyone’s way. Overall, though, this is an Otello with more pluses than minuses. And anyway, Mark Swed was right in his review in the LA Times - Domingo is not coming back in this part in LA again, and this isn't at all a bad way for the the company to move on.


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