The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: This Saturday, “Live From the Met in HD” offers a controversial and innovative production of Verdi’s “Otello.” Here are some background stories plus a positive review from The New York Times. | October 15, 2015

By Jacob Stockinger

This Saturday, “Live From The Met in HD” will present a live performance by the Metropolitan Opera of Giuseppe Verdi’s “Otello,” which is based on William Shakespeare’s tragedy “Othello.”

This is the production that has made news because it is the first one in the history of The Met not to use blackface. (Below, in a photo by Ken Howard for The Metropolitan Opera, are the Latvian tenor Aleksandrs Antonenko, right, as Otello and baritone Zjelko Lucic as Iago.)

otello (left) Aleksandrs Antonenko CR Ken Howard:Metropolitan Opera

This year marks the 10th season of the popular and innovative series of high-definition broadcasts that are beamed via satellite to 2,000 screens in 70 countries.

In Madison, the opera can be seen at the Point Cinemas on the city’s far west side and at Eastgate cinemas on the far east side.

Admission is $24 for adults and $22 for seniors 60 and over; and $18 for children 3 to 11. Tickets to the encore productions are $18.

The performance starts at 11:55 a.m. and will last about 2 hours and 45 minutes including an intermission. (Below center is the acclaimed Bulgarian soprano Sonja Yoncheva as Desdemona.)

Otello Met Sonja Yoncheva as Desdemona

The handsome new and ingenious Romantic-era production (below top) in a photo by Sarah Krulwich for The New York Times) has been praised for its stage direction by Bartlett Sher.

Otello (Aleksandrs Antonenko) and Iago (Zeljko Lucic, right) CR Sara Krulwich NYT

Also drawing praise is the production’s firebrand conductor Yannick Nezet-Seguin (below bottom), the acclaimed French-Canadian music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra who reportedly is a likely candidate to succeed the legendary James Levine as music director of The Met.

Yannick Nezet-Seguin in aciton

For information about the cast and a synopsis:

From NPR or National Public Radio, here is a story about The Met foregoing blackface in this production. It is especially interesting because the reporter talks to an African American tenor who does not object to the use of such makeup:

And here is a debate about the blackface issue in which the central question is: If you didn’t know the plot of the play or opera, would you realize the pivotal role that race plays in the story without blackface? Read it and decide for yourself. (In a YouTube video at bottom is part of the love duet between Otello and Desdemona.)

Finally, here is a positive review by Anthony Tommasini for The New York Times:


  1. Here are some talented African American opera singers who could sing Otello (but whom the Met likely wlll not consider):

    1) Lawrence Brownlee (winner of a Met competition and many others, like the Richard Tucker and Marian Anderson Awards);

    2) Norman Garrett (although his voice is a bit lower, he’s already an accomplished opera singer);

    3) Isaachah Savage (young artist in residence at the San Francisco Opera) and a true tenor;

    4) Tony Jenkins. NOTE: He sued the Met for racism.


    Comment by fflambeau — October 16, 2015 @ 12:28 am

  2. Can the mighty Met be unable to find blacks who could sing the title role of Otello? Wouldn’t that be the best solution?


    Comment by fflambeau — October 15, 2015 @ 9:54 pm

    • You are absolutely right. But apparently the part is so demanding that they can’t find a black tenor who can do it. The NPR interview addresses that issue with a black tenor.


      Comment by welltemperedear — October 15, 2015 @ 10:59 pm

      • Sounds like just another excuse! Same old argument that was used in the law (for the Supreme Court); in medicine; even in baseball, at one point.

        And here is something about that from a better article on the subject:

        “What of the world of opera? Experts and fans will argue that opera casting is more about “vocal quality” than physical appearance and there is evidently truth in this as a mere glance at many opera productions will prove The role of Otello” requires a rare “heldentenor” voice. “Heldentenor” literally means “heroic tenor”. Interestingly, I came across a quote from African-American opera singer Tom Randle on this subject:

        “You have black men in opera who have had big careers – Simon Estes, Willard White – but where are the tenors? It’s not that the brothers aren’t singing!…[It’s because] in opera the tenor makes love onstage. The tenor gets the girl. He’s in charge. He wins. And this is what people don’t like..”



        Comment by fflambeau — October 16, 2015 @ 12:13 am

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