The Elite Model Look is the biggest and internationally most prestigious model scouting contest. It opens the door for young girls and boys to build a long lasting professional career in modeling. With experience and a love for detail Stellamodels will find the perfect model for your production. Desdemona’s side of the story from beyond the grave. How does she view her marriage now? And how does Emilia, who participated in the deception of her mistress, feel about her actions? We are told that she died of a broken heart while singing it. What kind of relationship did they share? Desdemona tries to fill in the gaps.
Directed by the indefatigable Peter Sellars, with a script by Toni Morrison and music by Rokia Traoré, this world premiere offers both a revision and extension of Shakespeare’s tragedy. African notion of the ongoing presence of the dead. The genesis of this project is interesting, even peculiar. In a brief introduction provided by Sellars before the performance, he described having a lunch one day with Toni Morrison and speaking frankly of Othello as a play he’d always disliked, because Desdemona was too simplistically good, and the racial politics were hopelessly archaic. Morrison, to his surprise, disagreed, and challenged Sellars to direct a production of Othello that would explore such questions. The result was the 2009 New York show with high profile stars like Philip Seymour Hoffman as Iago, and John Ortiz in the lead. Reviews were generally unfriendly, sometimes hostile. Regrettably, I didn’t see the production, which would’ve been interesting in regard to Sellars’ latest effort. After Sellars’Othello closed, it was not the end his conversation with Toni Morrison. Intriguingly, they had also agreed that Morrison would collaborate with him and pursue the subject for an entirely new show of their own.
For this idea, Sellars also brought in Rokia Traoré, an innovative Malian musician who had worked with him on his New Crowned Hope project. Desdemona is the fruit of these efforts. Perhaps my parents believed or imagined or knew my fortune at the moment of my birth. Perhaps being born a girl gave them all they needed to know of what my life would be like. That it would be subject to the whims of my elders and the control of men. Certainly that was the standard, no, the obligation of females in Venice in the fifteenth century. They knew the system, but they did not know me. I am not the meaning of a name I did not choose. Rokia Traoré, center, with guitar, and Elizabeth Marvel, lower right.
The result is a very worthwhile show that sometimes suffers from a conspicuous disparity between Traoré’s music, which is superb, and Morrison’s text which, despite interesting moments, is often less imaginative than worthy, and rather palpably pleased with its own didacticism. It has a message that stays on message and then, in case you didn’t get it, stays on message some more. It is safe to say that the audience got it. This situation puts Elizabeth Marvel, as Desdemona, in a difficult place. Tougher still is the fact that she has to do it on her own, without the added textures provided by instruments and a supporting chorus. It’s a lopsided arrangement which is apparent from the beginning, and which marks the entire show. There are plenty of smiles, too, giving her a positively American toothiness even as she describes the indignities and injustices she endured at the hands of her parents and Venetian society. She basks in the consolation of knowing she was right. The values she espouses are sympathetic and very much of the 21st century. So it’s a welcome development when the monologue shifts to recollections of other characters, for whom Marvel adopts different voices and attitudes.
This allows for a measure of conflict, and it also allows Marvel to show her skills as she moves from individual to individual, with transitions occasionally reinforced by her interaction with the set design, which features candles and hanging light bulbs. In the voice of Emilia, she reminds the spectators of the gulf in social status which separated her from Desdemona, and explains her deceit as a necessary survival tactic. The central conceit of Desdemona, though, concerns the heroine’s relationship with Barbary. In this rewriting, Barbary is presented as an African nurse who cared for Desdemona as a child and whose influence contributed to her falling in love with Othello. Desdemona was raised by an African woman, growing up with African stories and learning African songs. Often accompanying herself on guitar, she mixes griot tradition with other stylings and achieves impressive results. Traoré’s singing is both subtle and powerful, and expresses a broad palette of emotions. There is no sense of an artist straining for effect: the effect is there, which testifies to art of a very high order. It is often wonderful to witness.
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