Eastern Opera of NJ's Otello Proves Turbulent Times for Otello and Desdemona

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Eastern Opera of New Jersey presents Giuseppe Verdi’s dramatic opera, Otello Sunday, August 11, 3:00pm, at Dolan Hall, College of St. Elizabeth, semi-staged with full orchestra and costumes; and Friday, August 16 at 8:00pm, Saturday, August 17 at 8:00pm, and Sunday, August 18 at 3:00pm, fully staged with orchestra, costumes and sets, at the historic Brook Theater, 10 Hamilton Street, in Bound Brook, New Jersey.

Peter Lewis plays Otello in Eastern Opera of NJ's production in August

Peter Lewis as the tortured Otello

Heaven truly knows that thou art false as hell.

Rehearsals are well underway for Eastern Opera’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s dramatic opera Otello and already the electric energy between the lead characters of Otello and Desdemona is apparent. Indeed, for Karole and Peter Lewis, working together on stage has been a common-place occurrence throughout their 25 year marriage. But, what is so unique in this production is the vocal energy and dramatic intensity and violence brought about by mis-perceptions and evil machinations constructed by the character Iago. Thus, the Lewises have been forced to shift their normal love and affection on stage—that has characterized so many of their operatic roles—to a new and demanding uncertainty and despair that warps all sense of reality and understanding of one another.

The Shakespeare play, Othello, provides an excellent sub-plot for the action of the opera, Otello. Desdemona is an upstanding Venetian young woman who falls in love with the outsider, Othello, a Moor and a commanding presence as a warrior, and as a lover. There is intense mutual devotion between them despite the odds of an interracial marriage working successfully amidst the temper of the times. There are differences in age as Othello is much older than his new wife, and there are the massive differences in cultural backgrounds. Their love is certainly strong but almost inevitably their relationship is bound to fail and fall prey to the hatred and envy of others in their milieu. Beginning with the traditional “love duet” that ends Act I and moving to the precipitous and abrupt jealous rages and ultimate violent deaths of the succeeding acts, the music and the drama move into far different directions that what most soprano-tenor teams are accustomed to assuming.

Karole and Peter Lewis have done the standard “love conquers all” roles—and even when tragedy envelops the operatic endings, it is not tragedy brought on by evil and mistrust. Otello and the play Othello provide the platforms for unspeakable actions and destructive intentions. The evil Iago is at once the inhuman embodiment of evil and at the same time, a simple and desperate person with extreme envy and jealousy rage at his lower than expected station in life. Iago is insecure and feels rejected by the society around him that has eagerly and willingly embraced the Moor Otello—a leader of many who has overcome the odds of his former plight and station in life. And, as the tragedy unfolds, the music and the drama show an Iago exalting in his ability to manipulate and control the destiny of others. Iago beckons to Otello to give him trust and support—and Otello falls prey rapidly to his own social insecurity despite the vigorous and emboldened attempts at reconciliation from Desdemona.

In the play, Iago advises his superior: “O, beware, my lord, of jealousy! It is the green-eyed monster.” And, Othello continues to take the bait and allows his warrior instinct and deprived background—full of hardship and self-doubt—to rise beyond his true affection and love for his wife. Any hope for a common ground between the lovers is wrecked asunder by a skillful and evil doer—who himself has fallen prey to his own instincts and insecurities.

From a marriage based on rapturous love and devotion, Othello, the warrior and the lover turns against the one person who truly loves and respects him and he ultimately and tragically states: “Heaven truly knows that thou art false as hell.”

“It is challenging,” Peter Lewis, the tenor and Otello notes, to “all of a sudden turn precipitously on the person you love and to give up on one’s former natural sense of generosity and trust for that person.” He continues: “vocally and dramatically, the singers must make the turns in plot and feeling appear visible but plausible, and they must maintain a presence whereby the audience can comprehend the quick and fervent actions before them.”

Here is the wonderful Desdemona who has given herself up entirely to her love and respect for Otello only to be subjected to his horrifying verbal and physical assaults.

Lewis stated that “It is a new experience for us on stage. We want to enjoy the lush and gratifying melodies and lines of beautiful Verdi music but we have to maintain caution and underlying disharmony with thoughts of evil, loss of innocence, and ultimate despair and death. This is truly grand opera and the extraordinary association of grand music and grand drama as provided by Verdi writing at the end of his composing career.”

Eastern Opera Corp. is a nonprofit corporation organized and operated exclusively for charitable purposes. Specifically, Eastern Opera has been formed to encourage and instruct individuals for the purpose of improving and developing their capabilities, to educate the public on subjects useful to the individual and beneficial to the community, and to promote the arts and culture to the local communities. The first opera performance, Puccini’s Madama Butterfly (May, 2013) was met with standing ovations. For more information contact Lou Kersey at loukersey(at)easternopera(dot)org or visit http://www.easternopera.org.

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