`Otello' Soars in New Met Opera Production

TENOR Placido Domingo, already much-acclaimed for the title role of ``Otello,'' gave a surpassing, towering performance in the Metropolitan Opera's new production of Verdi's masterpiece.

Carol Vaness was a wonder, too, clear-voiced and serenely passionate as Desdemona, in the Monday night premiere of the Elijah Moshinsky production. The opera was marvelously staged - nothing quirky - and brilliantly acted by the entire cast.

Domingo has never sung or acted better. In the dark makeup and in his ever-richer understanding of the part, he became the Moor of William Shakespeare, librettist Arrigo Boito, and Verdi.

The first time Domingo sang Otello at the Met, he made him intellectual. Now his Otello is a natural leader, but with a heart so big that when it shattered, the audience felt an earthquake. Overriding his intelligence, this Otello is full of emotion, feeling, passion, nobility, and idealism, capable of fury and violence. When Iago drove a smoldering splinter into him, this Otello lost his strong certainty and direction. His love for his wife Desdemona burst into flames of jealousy, consuming everything.

SERGEI LEIFERKUS has a much lighter voice than most baritones who sing Iago. He did use an evil tone for Iago's famous ``Credo,'' but most of the time he didn't sound evil.

This can be seen as a plus, since Iago couldn't sound evil all the time or he wouldn't fool Otello and almost everybody else. But a fuller sound for Iago is preferable.

Conductor Valery Gergiev, artistic director of the Kirov Theater in St. Petersburg, Russia, made his Met debut. He obviously understands the opera. He had the orchestra swell in the ``Credo'' and in Desdemona's two last-act arias, where the voices should carry the music and the orchestra should be the underpinning.

Others in the cast who were excellent include Paul Plishka as Lodovico, Jane Bunnell as Emilia, Richard Croft as Cassio, and Charles Anthony as Roderigo.

Michael Yeargan was set designer. He began with flashing lightning and the interior of Otello's ship. This sank out of sight when it was no longer needed.

Peter J. Hall, costume designer, did a fine job, including dressing the women of Cyprus differently from Desdemona. Domingo looked commanding, in fitted leather suits with a governor's robe thrown over. Duane Schuler made a Met debut as lighting designer.

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