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Houston Grand Opera brings out visceral power of Verdi's 'Otello'

10.25.14
Patrick Summers
Houston Chronicle

By Steven Brown  

The passions of Giuseppe Verdi's "Otello" flared up with visceral power when Houston Grand Opera returned to Verdi's drama Friday after a 25-year wait.

Verdi's retelling of "Othello," William Shakespeare's story of a war hero tricked into thinking his wife is unfaithful, had the benefit of commanding voices, dynamic staging and a vivid orchestra.

Tenor Simon O'Neill's trumpet of a voice traced Otello's entire tragic path, from the triumphant ring of his entrance to the raw edge of desperation that took hold as the deception progressed. As Desdemona, Otello's unjustly accused wife, soprano Ailyn Perez sang with a fullness, warmth and poise that exuded Desdemona's good-heartedness. Baritone Marco Vratogna relied mainly on his voice's snarling impact to put across the evil of Iago, Otello's deceiver.

The Houston Grand Opera Orchestra, conducted by Patrick Summers, lashed out fiercely to accentuate Otello's outbursts. But it helped tell the story through subtler strokes, too, such as the menacing undertone it gave Iago's drinking song and the gleaming halo of strings that surrounded Desdemona's prayer.

John Cox's staging was clear and acute, especially in showing how Iago manipulates what Otello sees and hears. And Johan Engels' stylized set, with its sideways sloping floor, symbolized the inner instability that sets up Otello to become Iago's victim.