As in so many stagings of this story, the villain steals the show. Iago is a nihilistic chess master and thus inherently more interesting than the pawns he manipulates. In addition, Hayward's resonant baritone tends to dominate the duets between Otello and Iago, effectively smothering the Moor's nobler impulses. Hayward may be a bit seedy for the part--one usually pictures Iago as a weasely, clean-cut junior executive type--but his electric stage presence is perfect for the mercurial anti-hero for whom "death is nothingness and heaven a lie."
If Otello is one of Verdi's finest, it must also be one of his most exhausting. Along with the sustained feverish emotional pitch, both Otello and Iago are on stage for the lion's share of the second act and there is little respite for strained vocal cords beyond the occasional duet or chorus scene. By the time Otello enters Desdemona's bedroom to put out the lights once and for all, both the performers and the audience are ready for some well-earned rest.
I Believe I'll Run On...And See What the End's Gonna Be runs through March 6 at the Hennepin Center for the Arts; (612) 339-4944.Otello runs through February 6 at the Ordway Music Theatre; (651) 224-4222.