Wednesday, November 18, 2009
The Comedy of Otello
The San Francisco Opera supernumeraries held a season-ending party at Fort Mason last weekend, and the evening ended with a very funny skit by Charlie Lichtman (above, dressed as a deviled egg). Charlie's only spear carrying this year was in Verdi's "Otello," which is currently running at the opera house this month, but the lighting is so ridiculously dark during the entire production that you probably won't be able to spot him.
One of the best bits in the skit was a chronicling of the onstage deaths in this year's season, from the smothering in "Gianni Schicchi" (above) to the suicide of "Suor Angelica" (below).
My friend Kimo called me at the start of the season and asked for suggestions on opera tickets. I told him to get a mini-series in the last row of the balcony on nights when they were featuring OperaVision jumbo screens. "The tickets are cheap and the sound is the best in the house. Plus, the screens are cool for closeups." He had an extra ticket at the last minute for "Otello" on Tuesday night, and invited me along, though it turned out to be a very odd evening at the opera.
First off, the orchestra under Luisotti and the chorus in their opening storm scene were beyond thrilling but for some reason the Globe Theatre like stage was barely lit during the entire production, so nothing made any visual sense. Then the three principals arrived in Act One, and were all disappointing in their own ways. None of them were terrible, exactly, but the tenor was a non-actor and his voice wasn't great enough to compensate, the Iago struck me as from the Telly Savalas School of Bad Bald Villains acting and his voice wasn't at all remarkable (this is a minority opinion), and finally the Desdemona was borderline ghastly and a terrible actress besides. Of all operas in the repertory, this is the one that demands and rewards great singing actors, but anything less can be depressing. (production photo above by Terrence McCarthy)
The oddness of the evening started with the unnnnngh-unnnngh-unnnngh humming sound that was coming from somewhere near us in the back balcony. During the loud choruses, it wasn't a problem, but the moment the music quieted down, we'd hear: "Un bacio....unnngh-unnngh-unnngh...un baaaacio...unngh-unnngh-unngh." We left after the end of the first act, even though the intermission was scheduled for after act two, because the noise was so seriously annoying.
In the lobby, we told the wonderful usher Martin Dias about the problem, and he got on his walkie-talkie. What was most surprising was that the serious musical purists in balcony standing room weren't up in arms, because the noise was very intrusive. Maybe they're all in New York seeing "From The House of the Dead" at the Met.
We went to the box office and asked to exchange our tickets for another performance, but the irreplaceable box office goddess Marcella Bastiani told us that was not possible. She could, however, get us some different seats for later in the evening, which is how we ended up comped in center orchestra for the third act, the great ensemble heart of the opera.
Unfortunately, there were still no lights on the stage, the principals were still essentially mediocre, and when the extremely hefty Otello rolled onto the floor having a fit, I have to confess to laughing.
Part of the reason for the laughter is that I played Otello in the "Season of Death" skit on Saturday, and had unintentionally done a perfect parody of the bad acting in the real "Otello." I believe my ad-libbed line after learning that Desdemona hadn't been unfaithful and before stabbing myself was, "Oh, Dio Mio, what have I done?"