United States Verdi, Otello: (concert performance): Soloists, Cincinnati May Festival, James Conlon (conductor), Music Hall, Cincinnati, Ohio, 22.5.2016 (RDA)
Otello is arguably the most demanding tenor role in the Italian canon: it calls for a clarion upper voice coupled to plenty of heft at the low end of the tenor range. In constructing the opera, Verdi and Boito wasted no time in setting the wheels of the story in motion, and by the end of Act II, both the character of Otello and the audience have been through an emotional roller coaster. The tenor who undertakes this assignment faces many daunting moments, none more so than the scene ending Act II, with Ora e per sempre addio closely followed by the Sì, pel ciel duet with Iago.
Some say that when a singer is old enough to sing Otello he’s too old to sing Otello. Gregory Kunde is in his 60’s and still singing spectacularly after a long time spent performing much lighter repertory. He brings to this assignment a powerful and beautiful sound that never turns strident, coupled to a solid technique and immense intelligence. Not surprisingly the Cincinnati audience rewarded Kunde with two well-deserved standing ovations during the evening.
But Otello is not all about the title character. There are two other plum roles, as long as the singers assigned to the task are up to it. The good news is that the young soprano Tamara Wilson is a lovely Desdemona, with a creamy Italianate sound just right for this part, and Latvian bass-baritone Egils Silins is a fine Iago and an unparalleled match to his partner in the Act II duet.
In the key supporting roles of Cassio and Emilia, tenor Ben Bliss and mezzo-soprano Sara Murphy distinguished themselves, and veteran John Cheek—in a triple assignment as Lodovico, Montano, and the Herald—was a sonorous case of luxury casting.
James Conlon conducted the concert performance with the assurance and sensitivity that a career-long love affair with opera allows him to bring to the podium. His passion in leading the orchestra and May Festival choruses (both adult and children’s groups) elicited a full operatic sound from all.
Rodrick Dixon sang a 30-minute pre-concert recital with the superb accompanist Michael Chertok. Including spirituals, Schumann and Schubert lieder, French art songs by Duparc and Fauré, a song by Lee Hoiby, and the show-stopper Amor ti vieta from Giordano’s Fedora, Dixon’s singing was glorious with flawless diction, with precise and tasteful artistic instincts. I predict that in another ten years or so, this fine singer may just become the next and best Otello of his generation.
Rafael de Acha