IN: Reviews

Lowell House’s Tragedy Otello A Triumph


The longest-running opera company in New England – Harvard University’s Lowell House Opera – presented Verdi’s Otello to a sold-out crowd at its black-tie opening on Wednesday March 4, 2009. Consistently sold-out performances continue until Saturday night, March 14.

It is difficult to fathom how a student-run opera company can consistently produce serious operas at a high artistic level – but they do. The previous year’s list of operas is impressive – the Weill/Brecht Three Penny Opera, Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier, and Giuseppe Verdi’s Turandot. Part of the secret is talent that is willing to donate their considerable abilities for this experience. The main parts are at least double-cast, so many singers can get a crack at a major role.

In my performance, Othello was played by Brian Landry, who had the lead in Turandot last year. Landry has a voice as large as his body, and equally impressive acting skills. He was marvelous as Othello – authoritative, bold, and passionate. Desdemona, played by Melynda Davis, was equally credible (and audible). The difficult role of Iago was played by Andrew Young with bravado and a few wobbly notes. The real star of the performance was the orchestra, lead with great skill by Channing Yu. Chorus and orchestra were mostly students from the area, joined by recent and not-so-recent graduates from universities all over town. Everyone was having a great time playing Verdi’s powerful score while trying mightily not to drown out the singers.

Lighting, sets, music and acting combined to deliver a powerful experience to the audience. It is one thing to see a great opera like Otello played to an audience of 3,000 in a large theater, where the average seating distance is more than 100 feet. It is quite another to have a more than adequate orchestra and some excellent singers right in your face.  (The opera is staged in the Lowell House dining hall, from which tables and chairs have to be cleared after every meal before a performance, which explains why it starts at 8:30.)

The intensity of the drama – one of Shakespeare’s best plays and one of Verdi’s best scores – was often too much for me. I had to shut my eyes and just listen to the music. The tragic ending was as intense as it should be. A great night at the opera! I can’t wait to see what they will do next year.

David Griesinger is a Harvard-trained physicist who is eminent in the field of sound and music. His website is here.


3 Comments [leave a civil comment (others will be removed) and please disclose relevant affiliations]

  1. Yes, this was a fine production, and it was good to see so many students involved. I do wonder why the orchestra had to be so large, even if, as one cellist noted, there are six parts for her instrument alone. The setting, a turreted stone castle with exterior stairs, worked very well. The staging and lighting, though conventional, were very well done, most notably in the crowd scene at the beginning of Act III, when the colorful assembly around Desdemona sing her praises, while Iago, the only black figure, lurks stage left.

    Melynda Davis (Desdemona) and Ana Maria Ugarte (Emilia) sang and acted well, but the stand-out in this production was Brian Landry (Otello). Wonderful voice, clean and lyrical, superb character portrayal, and excellent, fully understandable diction.

    One caveat to all three: to reach higher levels in the operatic world, which they justly deserve, they should look to Deborah Voight and the beneficial turn-around in her career.

    Comment by Ssettannante amante di Musica — March 15, 2009 at 11:28 am

  2. Il mio sbaglio tipografica (my typographical – and spelling – mistake):
    Il mio “nome”?: Settantenne

    Comment by Ssettannante amante di Musica — March 15, 2009 at 1:16 pm

  3. You should have seen the other cast! They were phenomenal!

    Comment by Music Lover — March 16, 2009 at 1:28 pm

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