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Verdi's Otello

Carl Tanner

April 7 — April 12, 8:00 p.m.Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall

​Carl St.Clair, conductor
Robert Neu, stage director
Pacific Chorale — Robert Istad, artistic director
Pacific Symphony

Otello: Carl Tanner
Desdemona: Kelebogile Besong
Iago: Stephen Powell
Emilia: Loretta Bybee
Cassio: Norman Shankle
Roderigo: Eric Barry
Lodovico: John Paul Huckle
Montano: Jeffrey Mattsey
Costume designer: Katie Wilson
Lighting director: Kathy Pryzgoda

VERDI: Otello

Libretto by Arrigo Boito

Sung in Italian with English Supertitles

Spotify Playlist

Preview Talk with KUSC's Alan Chapman at 7 p.m. Doors open at 6:45 p.m.

Love, betrayal and jealousy – all trademarks of great tragic opera – Otello embraces these themes to the fullest. Written decades after going into retirement, Verdi’s interpretation of Shakespeare’s tale takes you on a journey through a passionate romance destroyed by one of opera’s most loathsome villains.

Audience Advisory:
All ticket holders must wear a mask AND provide proof of full vaccination against COVID-19 or a negative COVID-19 PCR test taken within 72 hours of performance. Learn more.

Stage Director's Note From Robert Neu

Shakespeare and Verdi!  There are times that a director needs to get out of the way and completely trust the material.  If there ever was a time for such an approach, it's when you're working on this most extraordinary of operas, Otello. 

Amazingly, this work was almost not composed.  Verdi had finished Aida and was ready for his retirement.  Although only 58, he was wealthy and famous, thanks to a string of hits (which are still hits today).  Fortunately for us, his publisher, Giulio Ricordi, was eager for the additional income that would surely be generated by Verdi's next work.  Ricordi knew of Verdi's love for Shakespeare and eventually convinced Verdi to undertake another project by enticing him with Otello.

Remaining faithful to the original material, Verdi focuses on the three tragic characters of Otello, Desdemona and Iago.  And in Iago we have one of the greatest characters anyone has ever invented - the personification of evil with the very essence of that evil being "created by God."  We're appalled by Iago, but we can't look away.  Our hearts melt for Desdemona - as audience members we are privy to the information that she is completely innocent.  And then Otello himself - along with Hamlet, he's Shakespeare's most complex and puzzling creation.  In the course of less than three hours we watch him go from being a patriotic hero beloved by his country to someone who truly has taken leave of his senses.  

But back to getting out of the way.  With this opera, Verdi wrote three leading characters that require the strongest actors imaginable who can also meet the most challenging vocal demands in the repertoire.  Maestro St. Clair and the Pacific Symphony have once again cast their annual opera with amazing artists who are able to interpret these characters on a world-class level.  So while our work together has truly been collaborative (as theater-making always is), the artistry on stage - combined with the mastery of Shakespeare and Verdi - have allowed this stage director to work in a joyous and effortless way.  What a pleasure!  

Please enjoy and appreciate the fine efforts of everyone on and off stage who has made this great work come together with the Pacific Symphony.  We appreciate your being here with us!

Robert Neu - Stage Director

Guest Artist

Robert Neu - Stage Director

Robert Neu, known for his highly theatrical and musically sensitive work, has directed over one hundred productions of operas, musicals and plays throughout the country. Neu’s recent productions include "The Magic Flute" and "L’Enfant et les sortileges" for Pacific Symphony, among many others.

Carl Tanner

Guest Artist

Carl Tanner

American operatic Tenor Carl Tanner has established an international performance career and appears regularly at the world's most prestigious opera houses including Teatro alla Scala, the Metropolitan Opera, The Royal Opera House Covent Garden, Opéra National de Paris, Washington National Opera, the New National Theatre of Tokyo, Deutsche Oper in Berlin, Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, Teatro Real de Madrid, and Liceu de Barcelona, among others.

His repertory includes the title roles in Otello and Andrea Chénier, Radames in Aida, Manrico in Il trovatore, Pollione in Norma, Don José in Carmen, Canio in I Pagliacci, Turiddu in Cavalleria Rusticana, Calaf in Turandot, Des Grieux in Manon Lescaut, Dick Johnson in La fanciulla del West, Cavaradossi in Tosca and Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly.

Upcoming in the 2018-19 season Carl sings the title role in Otello at the Savonlinna Festival in Finland, followed by Otello at the Bolshoi in Moscow, and returns to the Metropolitan Opera to serve as the first cover in Il Tabarro, Otello, Aida and Samson et Delilah. He will also return to Grange Park Festival, the San Diego Opera for Aida, and make a debut with the Gerencia Orquesta Sinfónica y Coro Prado del Rey in Madrid.

Schedule highlights in Carl's 2017/18 season included performances of his signature role Radamès in Verdi's Aida with Washington National Opera, plus a return to the Metropolitan Opera as Cavaradossi in Tosca and Manrico in Il Trovatore. He also sang the role of Samson in Samson et Dalilah with Opera North Carolina and Turandot with San Diego Opera.


Kelebogile Besong

Guest Artist

Kelebogile Besong

The young South-African spinto-soprano Kelebogile Besong is emerging on the international opera and concert stages as a talent of unusually strong stage presence, sensitive musicianship and vocal power. After making her North American debut as Aida with Pacific Symphony, critics proclaimed, “At the youthful age of 28, Besong’s vocal abilities are nothing short of phenomenal. Her Aida is truly visceral… The dramatic soprano turns on a dime, capable of radiating over and above tutti orchestra, yet poised for a quixotic shift of pianissimo phrasing that melts like butter.” ( The soprano returns this season to the role of Aida at Theater Dortmund, and sings Bess in the Porgy and Bess Suite in a return to Malmö Opera. Last season, Ms. Besong sang Countess Almaviva in Le Nozze di Figaro at the Hyogo Performing Arts Center in Japan, joined the Edinburgh International Festival for Musetta in La bohème, and sang Dido in Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas at Festival d’Aix-en-Provence.

Quickly establishing Aida as a signature role, Besong has also sung the role with Malmö Opera and Aalto-Musiktheater Essen. Her recent performances include: Fiordiligi in Cosi fan Tutte at the Bregenzer Festpiele; Violetta in La Traviata, Giorgietta in Il tabarro, and Dejanira Weil’s Royal Palace with Opéra National de Montpellier; Musetta in La bohème at Grange Park Opera; Micaela in Carmen with Opera Africa; Contessa in Le Nozze di Figaro with both Tampere Opera and the Orchestra of the 18th Century and conductor Kenneth Montgomery at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam; the title role in Kálmán’s Gräfen Mariza with the Johannesburg Symphony; and Venus in John Blow’s Venus and Adonis and the Sorceress in Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas at the Innsbrucker Festwochen der Alten Musik. She created the role Gabisile in the Opera Africa’s world premiere of Ziyankomo and the Forbidden Fruit by Phelelani Mnomiya, sang the title role in Zulu Opera Princess Magogo at Den Norske Opera in Oslo, and Echo in Ariadne auf Naxos with Opéra Royal de Wallonie. On the concert stage she recently performed Handel’s Messiah and Mendelssohn’s Elijah both with the Johannesburg Symphony, and additional concert performances include Mahler’s Symphony No. 4, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, Mozart’s Requiem and Mass in C minor and Poulenc’s Gloria.

Ms. Besong is the proud recipient of the 2012 Standard Bank Young Artist Award in Music and in 2013 she was awarded Africa’s Most Influential Woman in Business & Government (Arts). Mrs. Besong was a finalist of the 32nd Belvedere Singing Competition 2013, held at the Dutch National Opera in Amsterdam, and represented South-Africa in the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition 2015. 

Stephen Powell

Guest Artist

Stephen Powell

I wanted to be Billy Joel.

I admired his piano skills and singing ability almost as much as I admired the songs he wrote. Even though I began my musical path as a pianist - playing the music of Beethoven, Bach, Chopin, Schumann, Mozart, Brahms - I felt a strong affinity for the human voice, identifying and focusing on that sound when listening to pop and rock, jazz and blues. I sang in church and school choirs, had roles in the musicals, and was in a rock band (PARAGON!) all through high school, singing and playing the saxophone and piano. We even went into the studio and recorded original music, some of which I composed. I just loved good music, no matter the genre. 

Still yearning to be Billy Joel…

It was when I began my undergrad years as a piano major that I quickly discovered I didn’t have the personality to practice alone for 8 hours a day. I started collaborating with other musicians of all kinds as an accompanist...Which led me into the incredible world of opera, oratorio and art song...Which led me to my first voice teacher, Norman Gulbrandsen...Who became my mentor, and convinced me to pursue singing as a vocation. So what did I do? I graduated with a degree in theory and composition, having switched from piano my junior year. I still had the yearning to be Billy Joel, but the compositions didn’t come so easily. I dabbled and searched within the entire music universe, still trying to find the place where I truly belonged. After four years of gigging and struggle I finally decided to follow my mentor’s advice, and at the age of 25 went back to school. 

Two advanced degrees and a young artist program later, I found myself at New York City Opera beginning a career as an opera singer. There I met (and sang with) my wife, soprano Barbara Shirvis, with whom I have 2 grown sons, now pursuing their own careers as jazz musicians and singers in their own right. I’ve been fortunate to sing in many beautiful places with spectacular musicians, performing some of the greatest music ever written, to appreciative audiences who still long for live performances of the great masters (both old AND new) of western music. 

I’m a little older now, but I still have more to say and do. I plan on singing as long as I’m physically able, or until people gently request that I cease and desist, whichever comes first. I’m grateful to have a life in music, and a musical life. There is no more powerful drug in the world, no higher high, than existing amidst the swirl and vibrations of the sound of music. We all need it, especially now.