THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
LoftOpera, which performs in unconventional spaces, is doing Rossini’s ‘Otello’ at Lightspace Studios in Brooklyn’s Bushwick neighborhood.
As usual, LoftOpera did a lot with a little: The show was set in 1950’s Venice, which made costuming economical, and chorus members moved the furniture – a desk, a bed, some chairs – on and off a platform. John de los Santos’ direction set up the conflicts well, adding nuance where the libretto doesn’t bother. Rossini’s version of ‘Otello’ is a lot less subtle and psychological than Verdi’s: It’s basically a marriage plot gone wrong, thanks to a purloined letter. We never actually see the lovers happy together, an omission remedied here by having the two share an embrace in Desdemona’s bedroom as the overture begins.
NEW YORK OBSERVER
An appealing roughness borders every aspect of LoftOpera’s latest presentation.
It’s a concentrated and simplified drama, leaving plenty of room for extravagant arias and ensemble number carrying singers to the edge of virtuosity, and – occasionally in Saturday night’s performance – beyond.
Stage director John de los Santos kept the action fluid and the groupings interestingly varied on the single white and gold set. An aspect of the drama he addressed superbly was that issue of isolation from society, here represented by a sneering chorus in chic 1950’s cocktail party garb.
LA SCENA MUSICALE
LoftOpera knows how to bring it. And they’ve brought it again, with their new production of Rossini’s long-overlooked Otello. Even before a note has sounded, one can’t help musing about that bed dominating the paying area. Does Rossini actually tell his Otello in bloody flashback?
No as it turns out. Yet that bed – one of director John de los Santos’ many canny, economical touches – nonetheless works as a circular-structure prompt. Much like a melodic phrase you know must ultimately resolve, the image of the bed powerfully prefigures the opera’s dark climax, and functions like a suspended preparation to an eventual great falling cadence.
And while a handkerchief is of looming consequence in Shakespeare and Verdi, Rossini’s Otello turns on the complex mechanics of the intercepted letter (though de los Santos finds ingenious ways of reintroducing the handkerchief here, again leveraging the familiar to clarify the new).
…de los Santos’ shaping and staging of the story are exemplary, chockfull of effective details and successful conceits. The opera’s opening chorus, praising Otello’s military conquests, becomes a radio transmission tensely audited by Desdemona, her father, and Emilia. The chummy old-boys’-club reception for Otello has a vintage, smoke-filled room savor to it. Later, when Iago rebuffs two hostesses so that he can be alone with Rodrigo – de los Santos mines a lush tenor duet for all its ambitious suggestiveness.
Throughout the production, de los Santos interpolates well-calculated dumb-shows and bits of business to enhance orchestral passage or amplify the plot: an opening enactment of Otello and Desdemona’s ‘secret marriage’ vows; a sinister murder fantasy, played out with the Doge’s desk as a sacrificial altar; a slow-motion version of a fatal knife fight, ending in a cliff-hanger stage-freeze (since the fight’s outcome is not made explicit until the opera’s final moments.)
To initiate Act II, de los Santos innovates a pantomime of gossipy aristocrats, spying on their peers – which then evolves into a taut musical-chairs pas de trois for Rodrigo, Otello, and Desdemona. Iago looks on inscrutably; the Green-Eyed Monster is clearly muse.
…when the action of Rossini’s opera returns at last to that bed, intersecting finally with the known contours of Shakespeare’s story, de los Santos whips up gasp-inducting intensity for his climax, staged amidst harrowing dashed of lightening.
[Otello] is a strangely good match for the alternative aura of LoftOpera, which has a history with Rossini operas and, with its nomadic nature, tends to mix and match venues with repertoire.
…the production was a genuine encounter with the seldom produced, undervalued opera, in what is said to be the first New York staging in 40 years.
Stage director John de los Santos kept the pace viable. The basic story about Otello’s ascent to power – with a built-in racially-motivated conspiracy to take him down – couldn’t help but suggest parallels with recent American politics.
Wisely, the overture came with the staging business of Otello and Desdemona getting up in the morning together – establishing the nature of their relationship in ways the opera itself neglects.
[LoftOpera] is back at it again, showcasing why it is one of the finest operatic experiences in all of New York City.
A strong modern update…John de los Santos wisely connected Acts 2 and 3 after the interval, giving the drama a strong narrative drive. De los Santos updated the opera’s setting to Venice in 1957 during the Economic Miracle, the period after World War II when Italy experienced a strong economic boost.
If there is one thing I must emphasize, it is the immersive experience of LoftOpera. [Their previous production] had characters walking through the audience, but this ‘Otello’ pushed the envelope further. At points, I had the action performed right in front of me, from Otello shaving prior to killing Desdemona, to the leading lady and Rodrigo engaged in an emotional dispute. The tension was ramped up in these moments and the sense of dramatic immediacy and urgency could never be stronger. More importantly? There was no musical shortcoming as a result. You will rarely ever get that in any other operatic forum.
GAY CITY NEWS
LoftOpera upped its game with a vital, musically ambitious revival of Rossini’s 1816 version of ‘Otello’.
John de los Santos’ direction strove for economy and elegance, and at its best, succeeded.
MUSICAL AMERICA WORLDWIDE
As a whole, the experience was memorable, showing imagination on a budget, and starring young singers eager and able to deal with Rossini’s considerable demands.
Director John de los Santos made creative use of the space: cast members often passed by the audience en route to the stage: as Otello contemplated the deed he must do, he appeared in the aisle, a spotlight catching him shaving. And the 11-member chorus had it its moments: at the end of Act II, as Desdemona lay on the floor in despair, the singers circled her like vultures.
ALLEGRI CON FUOCO
…in addition to the expected vocal fireworks, visceral dramatic tension built up throughout the performance, and really exploded in the last act, culminating in the chilling finale.
The production concept of stage director John de los Santos moves the action to the 1950s, the economic boom in post-war Italy known as the “miracolo italiano.” A silent screening of Fellini’s Le Notti di Cabiria before the show helped frame the cultural period, and costumes and stage props had a glamorous 1950s look. All in all, it made great use of the intimate space and had some clever touches.
…this Otello, predating Verdi’s take by over 70 years, seemed a horse of a different color – with LoftOpera making a strong musical case for Rossini, especially in his treatment of Desdemona.
Matsy Stinson’s costumes worked well, and director/designer John de los Santos couldn’t be accused of letting the action lag for a moment.