When Otello goes HD

This weekend, aficionados will be able to soak in a live opera screening, thanks to a tie-up between the National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA) and The Metropolitan Opera (New York). The famous opera, Otello by Giuseppe Verdi will be set to an Italian libretto by Arrigo Boito. Set in four acts, the opera was first performed at the Teatro alla Scala, Milan on February 5, 1887. Considered as Verdi’s greatest and most mature opera, the orchestra that served as an accompaniment to the singing in Verdi’s earlier works, will play a major part in conveying the events in Otello.

Renee Fleming as Desdemona and Johan Botha in the title role of Verdi’s Otello. Pics courtesy / Ken Howard / Metropolitan Opera

The Otello experience
Speaking about this show, Khushroo N Suntook, Chairman of NCPA and Co-Founder of Symphony Orchestra of India, says that there are several highlights that make it a must-watch, including its cast — Soprano Renée Fleming (considered as one of the world’s greatest Sopranos) who portrays Desdemona live on HD screens for the first time while South African tenor Johan Botha sings the demanding title role and acclaimed Russian conductor Semyon Bychkov who leads the opera is also making his live HD debut.

“For the city, it’s an opportunity to watch one of Shakespeare’s well-known productions, in an opera form. From the production viewpoint, all operas/ plays are filmed in High Definition. The sound is captured in cinema surround sound so, audiences get the best seats in the house with the best perspective and angles, great sound and picture clarity and finally, the chance to watch one of the hottest plays from the London stage. Nothing substitutes a live production. We don’t claim to match the expectation of a ‘live’ production. But it’s the next best thing, at a fraction of the cost,” he says.

Opera and the city
Suntook recalls Mumbai’s Opera-inspired history as well: “Opera has been staged here, intermittently, since the 1920s. The Royal Opera House (now better known as a Bus Station) is evidence of the importance given by the British but it has fallen into neglect. In the 1960s, the Bombay Madrigal Singers Organisation (BMSO) revived it, in the Tejpal Auditorium, but that stopped after a few years. There is a small but growing audience for Opera here, as more Indians watch such productions when they travel abroad.”

A few years back, NCPA had screened master operas including Puccini’s Madama Butterfly (2008) and Tosca (2010). In February this year, they presented Cavalleria Rusticana and I Pagliacci to raise awareness about the form. Since 2008, every Opera screened here has carried subtitles to help audiences understand the plot.

Demystifying the experience, Suntook states that watching an Opera is like watching a play on stage. “The only difference is that people sing their parts instead of reciting them, and a full live orchestra of over 100 musicians play to the action on stage. So, you are engaging more than one sense to appreciate the art: visual (sets, costumes) and aural (music, singing), unlike reading in which you are engaging just the visual sense.”

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