NEW YORK (AP) - Near the end of Shakespeare's "Othello," the hero speaks of the "unlucky deeds" that have brought about his downfall. The same phrase might well apply to the ill fortune the Metropolitan Opera has had this season in casting the title role of Verdi's adaptation.
Last fall, tenor Johan Botha was indisposed at the opening and then canceled all but the final performance of his run. Now the Met has brought "Otello" back for six performances with Jose Cura giving a frustratingly idiosyncratic interpretation of one of the most thrilling roles in the operatic repertory.
The Argentinian tenor, heard at the third performance Wednesday night, croons more than he sings, and his intonation is wobbly, especially at the low volume he favors for all but the climactic outbursts. Worst of all, he insists on setting his own tempos, sabotaging efforts by conductor Alain Altinoglu to maintain control. At one point during the love duet that closes Act 1, he rushed ahead of Krassimira Stoyanova's Desdemona, ruining what should be a sublime moment.
To be sure, there are effective touches in his performance, mostly in the dramatic sphere. He looks physically commanding as the aging warrior, and at times his brooding, understated reactions work better than the typical explosions of rage.
As for Stoyanova, the Bulgarian soprano was a model of vocal deportment, her pure, flexible voice filling out her lines with bright, pointed sound. The "Willow Song" and "Ave Maria" in Act 4 were the highlights of the evening, an unusually spontaneous-sounding outpouring of fervent emotion from a woman who rightly fears for her life. Especially telling was the way she looked up in alarm as the English horn echoed her sinking phrases.
Baritone Thomas Hampson, also new to the cast as Iago, did his best to compensate for a voice that's not quite big enough to fill out the Verdian phrases, but in the drinking song and elsewhere, this resulted in a blustery delivery. His best moment was his oily and sinuous narration of Cassio's dream, eagerly pouring poisonous lies into Otello's ear.
In smaller roles, tenor Alexey Dolgov impressed with ardent, unforced vocalism as Cassio, and bass Alexander Tsymbalyuk was a sonorous Lodovico.