Since time immemorial, opera has been seen as a blood sport, and the best sportsman knows that even the cleanest kill requires a little bloodletting. Tourniquets wound tight, Bartlett Sher's bloodless production of Giuseppe Verdi's Otello for the Metropolitan Opera read as a highly-stylized, censored confectionary package painted in tamed palettes.

Aleksandrs Antonenko (Otello) and ensemble © Ken Howard | Metropolitan Opera
Aleksandrs Antonenko (Otello) and ensemble
© Ken Howard | Metropolitan Opera

Sher’s interpretation of Verdi's 1887, four-act opera based on Shakespeare’s Othello – which premiered in September 2015 to open the current Metropolitan Opera season – purged blood and thunder, pathos and passion, impudence and rage, jealousy and revenge to colorless casts. The production failed to tap into Verdi's iron, Boito's shades or Shakespeare’s' dramatics. The Moor has been moored.

Just as Sher played it safe, so did conductor Ádám Fischer, highlighting Verdi's beauties and beasts as a faithful custodian of the score. Rangier, disciplined muscle over brute force would have fared better, such as the opening storm vignette that jangled like Orff.

Catherine Zuber's stylized, wholesome costumes were nicely modeled by an inertly-staged mannequin chorus. Monochromatic menswear hinted profession and social status through cut, drape and detail. Naval uniforms were vague assertions without pinning title or rank onto stacked chests, waists adorned with gold brocade sashes. Achromatic female wardrobes blossomed into decorous ball gowns in predictable, eveningwear tonalities of scarlet, magenta, plum and cobalt decorated with opera gloves and chokers.

Lighting designer Donald Holder sourced Boito's libretto cues – a literal “Fuoco di gioia” was lit in peachy-golden flame. Rich, atmospheric sets signed by Es Devlin were rendered as stylized, architectural glass carvings, crystal palaces weathered in sea salt and mist that slid around the stage into various blockings.

Projection designer Luke Halls set moods with effective, convincing video casts that sourced authentic textures such as granite and ocean whitecaps. Despite punishing the audience with the mercifully-strobing floodlights of Act I's opening storm, Halls created intimate, dynamic settings through video screen arrangements etched in roiling seas, crashing waves, and skies tinged blue and fire-and-brimstone red.

Željko Lučić (Iago) and Aleksandrs Antonenko (Otello) © Ken Howard | Metropolitan Opera
Željko Lučić (Iago) and Aleksandrs Antonenko (Otello)
© Ken Howard | Metropolitan Opera

Vocally, the cast melded charismatically across well-paired ensembles. Željko Lučić's Iago was an authoritative anchor, aquiline in demeanor with slight menace groomed in sangfroid. Sung in good taste, "Credo in un Dio crudel" held grand attention with naturalistic, dramatic pacing. His secure lines and resonant timbres melded nicely with Aleksandrs Antonenko's Otello, particularly during Act II's tête-à-tête.

Verdi's title protagonist read less as a hard-boned general of the Venetian fleet and more of a glorified cruise ship director with a convincing cavalry charge, too petulant for the vagaries of the sea. The Latvian tenor showed little mark of Shakespeare’s mercurial tyrant, and brought little heroism beyond his barrel-chested heft. Melodic, with pleasant timbre and color, Antonenko mastered projection and even emission for “Dio mi potevi scagliar” and “Niun mi tema”. An idiosyncratic, southern Italian slancio marked his otherwise solid Italian pronunciation.

Vocally and physically well-matched to Hibla Gerzmava's piteous, noble Desdemona, the crossed-in-love duo made an alluring “Già nella notte densa" duet. Gerzmava triumphed a lovely Willow Song and a heartfelt “Addio” farewell to Jennifer Johnson Cano's adequate Emilia. The Ave Maria was sung with great inflection over warm, expressive, resonant timbres in a scene that sparked a rare glimmer of depth and drama.

Alexey Dolgov stamped Cassio with entertaining verve while mastering a dynamic, gentlemanly, skillful sword fight (merit to great care under Fight Director B.H. Barry) with Jeff Mattsey's Montano and Chad Shelton's Roderigo. James Morris' Lodovico rounding out the tight ensemble.

A good sportsman’s taught to never point a loaded weapon at anyone unless he intends to kill them. Despite polished efforts from cast and crew, Sher’s production missed its target, sheathed and unchambered.