Metro Weekly

Editor’s Pick: The In Series – ‘Othello/Desdemona’

A unique two-evening affair from The InSeries that combines Shakespeare, Verdi, and Toni Morrison.

INSeries OperaTheater: Claron McFadden & Maribeth Diggle
INSeries OperaTheater: Claron McFadden and Maribeth Diggle

The provocatively innovative arts organization the IN Series has become known in recent years for its work in expanding the reach, as well as the range, of what is considered opera. Led by Timothy Nelson, the company prides itself on “an approach to art-making that is radically inclusive.”

That’s certainly the case with its latest production, whose title Othello/Desdemona only scratches the surface of what’s in store. The evening offers an adaptation of Shakespeare’s classic tragedy, relayed through the music of Verdi’s celebrated opera, and enhanced by Toni Morrison’s play giving titular voice to Othello’s martyred wife. But there’s even more to it than that.

Billed “a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” the new “two-evening experience” is presented in two distinct portions, the main connecting thread being the character of Desdemona, played both evenings by Maribeth Diggle.

Diggle will star opposite Walker J. Jackson as Othello, Brian Arreola as Cassio, Robert Mellon as Iago, and Elizabeth Mondragon as Emilia.

Accompanying the cast is jazz composer/arranger Janelle Gill, local strings player Tina Chancey, and Baltimore master of the African kora and djembe Amadou Kouyate.

“Part One: Othello” offers a twist on Verdi’s opera in which the original Italian language is replaced by sung English text by poet and scholar Andrew Albin, and in which the score is expanded by musical “sea-interludes” composed and performed on stage by saxophonist Matthew Evan Taylor.

Also adding to the experience are the searing images of British-Jamaican visual artist Keith Piper from his series Go West Young Man, exploring how Western civilization has feared and fetisized the Black male body.

“Part Two: Desdemona” presents Morrison’s meditative play retelling the famous narrative from the perspective of Othello’s wife as well as Barbary, the African slave woman who died caring for the young Desdemona as created by Morrison, here portrayed by renowned crossover soprano soloist Claron McFadden.

Interwoven into the staging is music of Nina Simone as well as music from 17th-century Venetian composer Barabara Strozzi, plus the immersive and interactive tissue-paper sculpture Peace by Piece developed by visual artist Maya Freelon.

Through June 19.

At the Source Theater, 1835 14th St. NW in Washington, D.C., and at the Baltimore Theatre Project, 45 W. Preston St.

Tickets are $60 to $80 for a two-evening package, or $40 to $65 per performance.

Dates vary per venue. Visit www.inseries.org.

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