Thursday, March 21, 2013

Otello at the Met

Last night we saw Otello at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. It was a thrilling production of Verdi's late masterwork based on the Shakespeare play. 

The sets, designed by Michael Yeargan, evoked the grandeur of the Venetian republic in Cyprus, with soaring columns anchoring the structure for both indoor and outdoor scenes. Duane Schuler's lighting design evoked everything from stormy seas to victory bonfires to sunny courtyard gardens.

To create the sketch above, I drew the orchestra pit and the audience during intermission. I drew the staging from memory on the train ride home since there wasn't enough light to see my book during the show.

According to reviewer Marion Rosenberg, this production by Elijah Moshinsky "draws on the rich but subdued palette of such Venetian masters as Titian and Gentile Bellini and sets the drama on Cyprus, where Verdi and Shakespeare envisioned it. A cult-site for the goddess Venus, evoked as the morning star in the opera’s love duet, the island is thus a bitingly ironic setting for a tale of shattered devotion."

During the show itself, I tried to capture some of the expressive poses of Thomas Hampson, who played the villain Iago. The role requires not only prodigious vocal skill, but also the ability to project the character's gravity and emotion through broad acting, and Hampson delivered brilliantly in all departments.

I recommend this opera to any artist who enjoys Golden Age illustration or academic painting, because it feels like a painting by Lawrence Alma Tadema or Jean-Leon Gérôme or Howard Pyle brought to life on stage. This is one of the Met's classic, traditional, and eye-popping productions, and of course it is Giuseppe Verdi at his very best.

There are still three performances of Otello remaining this season: Saturday, March 23, Wednesday, March 27, and Saturday, March 30. Here's the Met website
in a Moleskine watercolor notebook. Given the environment, I didn't use my watercolor set, but the pencils and brush pens are very discreet and work well in low light.
Thank you, Paul 


Tyler Parker said...

I was there last night as well!

I particularly enjoyed the two dynamic set changes, and was amused when the audience had a very audible response to the reveal of the courtyard (immediately following intermission).

I concur that Iago was spectacular. I was looking forward to the solo "Credo in un Dio Crudel" and was not disappointed.

Arahmynta said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Arahmynta said...

Alex Rex made a post on "Muddy Colours" regarding a tour he took through the studios of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. Towards the end of the picture set is an image of something which he couldn't quite identify, and he asked/wondered out loud "Does Gurney read this blog?"

Perhaps you'd care to take a look and see if you can enlighten us? :)

(Edited to correct typos)

krystal said...

James, have you ever ventured into Production/Set design? If you haven't I think you'd LOVE it! I am SO jealous....NY has James Turrell's exhibit this year AND my favorite LD is doing Magic Flute at the Met later this year! I do miss the experimentation, discussion and overall sense of collaboration and fulfillment of work in the theatre. Also, Rob Wilson is one of my FAVOURITE LDs/Set Designer/Directors of ALL!!! Have you read Max Keller's "Light Fantastic?" Amazing amazing amazing (for one birthday a few years ago, I got a signed copy of his book..I was floating all day long!) To be able to interpret and create new concepts from music and pages of a script in a way that feels so tangible is awe inspiring!

Dave Brasgalla said...

Hello James! Sounds like an amazing production... I had the pleasure to see this play produced in the cloister ruins of Roma on Gotland. It was probably in the other direction from your experience - quite minimalist in many ways, but with a real flavour of its own. They did some unexpected things - Desdemona took a bath onstage in act IV!

Some pictures still extant here:

I'd love to see it as opera...

And yes, a good Iago is joy to watch, isn't it? :D

Tom Hart said...

James, you are a true rennaisance man! I have to admit that opera is an art form that I haven't been able to appreciate in the way that I think I could (not to be confused with "should"). I have a feeling that the best in-road into opera would be to see a live production, to be fully immersed in the aural AND visual experience. You've inspired me to try to do so.