Rachel Willis-Sørensen’s Sensitive Portrayal in the LA Opera’s Version of Giuseppe Verdi’s Masterpiece reveals the truth: Otello’s bluster and arrogance make him a villain like Iago.
By John Lavitt
Los Angeles, CA (The Hollywood Times) 06-08-2023
Together, LA Opera Conductor James Conlon and Director Joel Ivany weave a tapestry of tragedy in their version of Giuseppe Verdi’s Otello at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. With powerful leading performances by Russel Thomas as Otello, Rachel Willis-Sørensen as Desdemona, and Igor Golovatenko as the devious Iago, the opera is an inspired wonder to behold. Playing on Shakespeare’s tragedy, it shows a different side to the story. There is a profound sense of Desdemona as not only a victim but also the story’s true hero.
As opposed to the self-obsessed men that litter the stage, Desdemona can think beyond the confines of her ego. Played with sensitivity and passion by Rachel Willis-Sørensen, she becomes the most decent and worthy character in the play. In contrast, everyone else feels self-serving, self-deluded, and downright selfish. In a time when women are demanding equality in the arts, Desdemona is a prime example of a character that is much more than a foil for her man. Instead, Rachel Willis-Sørensen is the heart and soul of the production.
As Otello, Russell Thomas is a powerful presence, but he is no hero in any way, shape, or form. Instead, he is a blustery fool who gets so easily manipulated by Iago because he cannot see beyond his machismo and arrogance. Rather than trusting the woman he loves, Otello is willing to embrace innuendo and mere suggestion. When Desdemona pleads with her beloved that she is loyal and honest, he does not pay heed to his partner in life. Instead, he treats her with a callousness and bombastic pomposity that betrays an idiot behind the drapery.
Ultimately, trying to undo the wicked knots tied into the tapestry of their lives by Iago, Desdemona’s only motivation is to help and support. After hearing the pleas of Cassio (Anthony Ciaramitaro), she just wants to help the poor man set things right with her husband. Of course, Iago is as evil as ever, and Igor Golovatenko relishes the role. From the dark tones of his voice to his baneful presence, there is no doubt about his intentions. What proves so frustrating is Otello’s refusal to question when faced with accusations that slander his beloved.
With a sumptuous cast and incredible set pieces, Otello at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion should not be missed. It is rare when an opera can illuminate the textual meanings of original material, particularly when the source is such a legendary tragedy by William Shakespeare. With a moving performance by Rachel Willis-Sørensen, the true nature of this story is revealed. Rather than be seen as a tragic hero, Otello is nothing more than one more villain who allows his arrogance to pollute his love. Ignoring the sacred gift of a woman’s love, he chooses violence and horror as the calling cards of his life. In the end, Desdemona is the tragic hero because she loved a man who could not see beyond the chains of his own blustery ego.
Photos by Cory Weaver