Event: Shakespeare Society collaboration with the Met Opera. A panel discussion, scene acts and selections constrasting the classic play and the opera by Guiseppe Verdi. Experts on the panel included: the director of the Metropolitan Opera’s new production of Otello, Tony-winner Bartlett Sher, Shakespeare Society Artistic Director Michael Sexton and the great Shakespeare scholar Stephen Greenblatt, Obie-winner John Douglas Thompson.
Spirikal’s bottom line: A delightful evening with informative discussion, powerful scene acts and two opera performances at the newly renovated Historical Society.
Review: Thanks to my teaching gig, I got complimentary tickets to this event. I’m a huge opera fan, and this was a rare moment that I came to an event knowing a lot about the evening’s topic.
If this bores you, I’m sorry but I have to show off. Verdi based his opera on one of Shakespeare’s most memorable tragedies with the unfortunate Othello falling victim to the evil mastermind Thiago. Verdi’s piece is essentially lost in translation.
Verdi was fascinated by Shakespeare, but according to another lecture I attended at the Met, he didn’t read English very well and instead used a French translation. I should point out that his French wasn’t up to scratch either so he changed a lot to adapt it to a musical peformance. In the opera version, the tragic figure Othello is usually played by a tenor, and the smart but villianous Thiago is the baritone. Perhaps Verdi was a bit snarky to tenors because legendary singer Dimitri Hvorostovsky said at another event that Verdi himself was a baritone and wrote his pieces for the benefit of fellow baritones. In brief, the tenors were often idealistic but foolish, whilst the baritone singer played the more cunning and sophisticated characters.
The panelists discussed scenes of the play and opera before and after the performancesFor me, I never really had thought about how crazy it must be for an opera director to adapt a piece like Othello for the Met, but Bartlett Sher, comically explained the amount of frustration of having to cut certain bits out and how Verdi’s version at times gave him a massive headache much to our amusement. “I’m glad it’s over,” he lamented.