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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

An 'Otello' Worthy of Verdi's Score

With the financially strapped Bolshoi Opera planning no addition to its repertoire until sometime next spring, the task of enlivening Moscow's current operatic season has for now fallen to the city's other lyric stages.

First off the mark was Helikon Opera, with its spirited new production of Johann Strauss' "Die Fledermaus." Next came Novaya Opera, offering an inspired fresh look at Tchaikovsky's "Eugene Onegin." And last week the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Musical Theater produced a host of happy surprises with the first new Moscow staging in nearly two decades of Giuseppe Verdi's next-to-final masterpiece, "Otello."

"Otello" is an extraordinarily difficult work to bring off, requiring top-flight conducting, good stage direction and at least three very solid singing actors. Notwithstanding the limited resources at its disposal, the Stanislavsky has pretty well managed to find all the necessary elements.

Without much doubt, the key to the Stanislavsky's success is conductor Vladimir Ponkin, who, with "Otello," takes up his new appointment as the theater's musical director. Ponkin is surely one of Moscow's musical treasures. With the symphony orchestra that now bears his name, he has over recent seasons offered a fairly consistent combination of imaginative programming and inspired interpretation. In the pit of the Stanislavsky, Ponkin infuses Verdi's magnificent score with power and elegance, while at the same time performing a near miracle by drawing first-rate playing from what might charitably be called a second-rate orchestra.

Considering that two of the world's three currently most sought-after interpreters of the title role in "Otello" are Russians -- both, sad to say, departed alumni of the Bolshoi -- it is perhaps not surprising that the Stanislavsky has managed to come up with a credible protagonist. Vyacheslav Osipov, who sang Otello at the premiere, has both the trumpet-like tones and the imposing physical presence the part requires, and much of his singing already qualifies as outstanding. Like any fledgling Otello, however, he still needs time and practice to take full measure of the long third-act monologue which lies at the center of the role.

Nikolai Reshetnyak, the Iago on opening night, played a suitably evil villain and brought to the part a full and authentic-sounding Verdi baritone. As Desdemona, the lovely Olga Guryakova once again displayed what may well be the finest soprano voice to be heard in Moscow today.

In his first attempt at staging opera, Alexei Borodin manages to tell the story of "Otello" in simple, straightforward terms. Stanislav Benediktov has fashioned some quite beautiful costumes, as well as a serviceable stage picture, very brownish in color and dominated by a set of vaguely Venetian-looking structures which are moved about on the theater's revolving stage to suggest the opera's various locales.

As in the case of Verdi's "Ernani," which the Stanislavsky successfully added to its repertoire two seasons ago, the theater has wisely chosen to present "Otello" in the original Italian.

In keeping with the Stanislavsky's usual practice, "Otello" will now be heard, with varying casts, approximately twice a month throughout the current season. It is a production of real quality and should not be missed.

"Otello" is being performed Wednesday and Nov. 6 and 24 in the theater at 17 Bolshaya Dmitrovka. Tickets start at 35,000 rubles ($6.45). Tel. 229-8288. Nearest metro: Chekhovskaya, Pushkinskaya or Tverskaya.