Town Times Review – The Lion of Venice has Roared

May 10, 2012 No Comments

By Larry Kellum

Verdi’s Otello is hailed (and later mocked by the evil Iago) as the “Lion of Venice.” On May 4, a pride of these majestic felines (and one gorgeous lioness) graced the stage of New Britain’s Trinity On Main when the CT Lyric Opera and its orchestra, the CT Virtuosi, presented this late Verdi masterpiece to close its ninth season. The opera will next appear at Middletown High School’s state-of-the-art Performing Arts Center this Friday, May 11, at 7:30 p.m. and promises to rock the rafters as it did in New Britain.

Otello is a colossal undertaking for any opera company — it requires a huge chorus, a rich orchestra and a first-rate tenor with the stamina to sing this, the most difficult role in the entire Italian tenor repertory. Understandably, the CLO had to present the work with cuts, but the chorus acquitted themselves well in the big concertato of Act 3, and the orchestra, under the baton of Adrian Sylveen, was as refulgent as ever. One only wished for more of a “production” (ie scenery), but with singers like this, it ultimately didn’t matter.

Now, for those lions. As expected, resident soprano Jurate Svedaite was a Desdemona for the history books. Tall, blonde and sympathetic, she floated heavenly pianissimos and her caramel colored spinto reveled in the lower-middle register where much of Desdemona’s music lies. As the malicious Iago, baritone Gary Simpson towered over the evening like a Colossus of Rhodes, flooding the theater with effortless, world-class vocalism and an imposing 6’2” presence. There was no need to snarl, growl or mug — the glorious voice said and did it all. Daniel Juarez was the second tenor of the night as Cassio and also sang well, in this his now fifth role for the CLO.

Then, there was our Moor. John Tsotsoros haunted this reviewer, who has seen so many Otellos full of testosterone and bravado. With his youthful looks, slender physique, big eyes and a certain sweetness in his upper-middle register, he brought out the vulnerability and sadness of the character rarely encountered. Yet, all the rage was there when necessary, and his lower-middle (where much of his music also lies) was dark, healthy, authoritative, even sexy. While one wouldn’t wish him a steady diet of this grueling role in bigger houses, here his first attempt at it proved highly successful. This triumvirate of singers gave the CLO one of its best performances to date, and the Virtuosi Orchestra, so esteemed in Puccini and especially Mozart, took the plunge into heavy Verdi with aplomb.

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