Operaphiles afflicted with cabin fever should find the L.A. Opera’s new “Otello” a liberating experience of life on the ocean waves. From the moment Ian Storey, in the title role, mounts his 35-foot topmast to proclaim his triumph over Turkish invaders, to the final curtain call, which finds cast and chorus assembled for what looks for all the world like a rousing chorus of “We Sail the Ocean Blue,” Verdi’s powerful dockside tragedy surges forward on designer Johan Engels’ deck, which is possessed of nary a flat surface. Even the firm throne of Cyprus’ Governor must rest atilt. Off in the distance, past the neon outline of a ship railing, appear now and then some lit-up shapes. The tall buildings of some post-Shakespearian, post-Verdian city? Your call.
Such maritime diversion seems curiously at odds with the firm dramatic values in this altogether excellent revival of Verdi’s Shakespearian masterpiece, with its firm, dark passions handsomely explored. Beyond all this visual paraphernalia there unfolds a reasonable, musically responsible and sometimes thrilling production of one of the greatest of all operas, superbly thought out by music director James Conlon.
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In his long-overdue company debut in his signature role of Iago, American baritone Mark Delavan serves as dramatic focus, from his first dark, poison-tipped tones onward and downward; in the title role, British tenor Storey, also new to the company, writhes under that poison, and we feel the pain. In a debut on two-days’ notice — replacing ailing soprano Cristina Gallardo-Domas — Russian soprano Elena Evseeva overcame a few pardonable insecurities to expire most eloquently.