It’s been many years since my last Opening Night, but I do remember how exciting they were – the Opera house at her most elegant, crystal chandeliers sparkling like diamonds, the fragrance of red roses and perfume even more intoxicating than the champagne that flowed freely.
You couldn’t move without rubbing shoulders with the glitterati -- Jackie “O,” a true patroness of the arts, and her sister, Princess Lee Radziwill, movie stars, Broadway actors, TV personalities, politicians and anyone with even the slightest connection to New York’s beau monde were there. It was all very heady stuff.
Then as now, Opening Night is less about opera and more about those who want to be seen and what they choose to be seen in. Think of it as opera’s annual Red Carpet event.
Last night was Opening Night at the Metropolitan Opera, and the Met launched its 2015-16 Season with a new production of Giuseppe Verdi’s penultimate masterpiece, “Otello.” Verdi was 74 when “Otello” debuted at La Scala in Milan. Six years later he would again turn to the Bard for his final masterpiece, “Falstaff.” Imagine! After much prodding and poking by his publicist, Verdi comes out of a long, self-imposed retirement to write his two greatest operas in his waning years!!
The title of Anthony Tommasini’s review in the New York Times of last night’s “Otello” is an interesting one: “Metropolitan Opera’s New ‘Otello,’ Bold and Tentative.” I tend to take all opera reviews with the requisite grain of salt until I actually see and hear the opera for myself, at which point the critics are either brilliant and insightful because they agree with me or fools and idiots because they don’t. I think that’s a pretty good system, don’t you? I’ll be seeing this new “Otello” in a few weeks, so I’ll let you know how it all shakes out.
Latvian tenor, Aleksandrs Antonenko, made his Met debut in this role last night, and he reportedly delivered the vocal goods. Again, I’ll let you know.
Over the years, I’ve seen many fabulous tenors rise to the vocal and dramatic challenges of this title role. Inevitably, there have also been a few casualties along the way.
My very first Otello still makes my heart skip a beat when I think of him. I had such a crush on him!!
Mario del Monaco (1915-1982) was born in the beautiful city of Florence. He spent his boyhood studying the violin, but, thankfully, he decided to pursue his true passion – the voice. And what a voice it was!! It was huge and exciting on a level I have never known in any other tenor. Singers spend years learning how to sing from the diaphragm. Del Monaco sang from somewhere decidedly south of his diaphragm. His nickname was the “Brass Bull of Milan.” Get the idea?
With his matinee idol looks (He had the dreamiest eyes!!) and virile voice and body, he was born to play the role of Otello.
Here’s an old black-and-white clip of del Monaco’s Otello making his entrance in the first Act. After being tossed about in a raging sea, Otello’s ship arrives safely in port to the great relief of the people of Cyprus, who have been anxiously awaiting the arrival of their new Governor.
A triumphant Otello greets them with what is probably the most famous and vocally difficult entrance any tenor has to sing. It begins with the word “Esultate!!” -- Rejoice!!
Mario del Monaco asked to be buried in his costume, and so he was.