Vocalist - Soprano
Opera's 'Otello' is solid, balanced
Verdi's grander moments less so

It has been almost 18 years since Kentucky Opera last performed Verdi's "Otello" -- a long interval, to be sure -- yet not so surprising when you consider the immense obstacles this work presents.

"Otello" is one of the most concentrated operas in the repertoire, not simply among Verdi's own myriad creations for the stage. Not a moment is squandered and, within the terse dramatic structure shaped by the composer and librettist Arrigo Boito, performers have nowhere to run and hide. If there is a weakness in execution, "Otello" likely will expose it.

Kentucky Opera's production is no spectacular achievement, but it is undeniably solid and balanced. Friday's performance at the Kentucky Center was best in the moderately proportioned sections that centered on two or three characters. Verdi's grander moments were less satisfying, revealing an underpopulated chorus and conducting by Steven Crawford that cried out for more heft and momentum.

Garnett Bruce directs with unfussy precision, at least fundamentally. The overall scheme is not above a few gimmicky touches, such as bathing Otello in green light when Iago speaks of green-eyed, monstrous jealousy. Occasionally Bruce proved anti-intuitive. I don't think it's the best tactic, when Desdemona tells Otello that his look frightens her to the core, for Otello to turn his back to her and stare off into the distance.

Vocally, soprano Kelly Kaduce's Desdemona carried away the evening's highest honors. In a brief curtain speech, KO general director David Roth told the Whitney Hall audience that Kaduce would sing despite having a sinus infection. If she was still suffering, however, it wasn't apparent in her lusciously inflected account of the Act Four "Willow Song," and in the clean, unforced way she spun out her phrases earlier in the performance.

Canadian tenor John Mac Master's Otello was anchored in a voice that possessed idiomatic color and dynamic contrast, at least as far as it went. Several moments revealed a top that strained to ring heroically, and his acting tended toward rudimentary gestures. Still, his Act One love duet with Kaduce was appealing in its honest tenderness, and at his best he knew how to make Verdi sound like Verdi.

Once he snapped his baritone into proper focus, Donnie Ray Albert proved a compelling Iago -- not just pure menace (in the black-hued Credo), but oily in his peculiar charm. The opera is often more about Iago than Otello, and Albert occupied his foreground with undisguised glee. It was a pity that Crawford's slack pacing robbed their great Act Two duet-finale of requisite punch.

Among supporting roles, Courtney McKeown turned in a dramatically sympathetic, confidently sung Emilia. Christian Reinert was a pallid Cassio, Benjamin Robinson a typically hapless Roderigo. The Kentucky Opera chorus, prepared by Philip Brisson, did their collective best to compensate for their modest numbers.

In the Whitney pit, the Louisville Orchestra played attentively. But where "Otello" needed to detonate, sometimes all that emerged was a boomlet.
Andrew Adler, Louisville Courier-Journal
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