When anticipating "Otello," one may avoid committing to the oft-expressed opinion that the opera excels Shakespeare's play in its impact. But as the story unfolds of the passionate Moor and his ill-fated bride, caught in the web of an evil deceiver, one must agree that a phrase of music can sometimes convey more mood and emotion than a hundred words.

Especially is this true when the efforts of all on stage are focused upon putting Verdi's grandest tragedy faithfully before the public. Starting with a masterpiece, conductor Anton Coppola, stage director David Morelock and the stellar cast need only be as good as their subject; a fact that everyone appears to comprehend, in a production without gimmicks, bent on making every rhythm, every nuance, every turn of expression serve both music and drama. The orchestra plays beautifully under Coppola, whose efforts in producing a cohesive, moving performance received as big a hand as the principals on opening night.Much thanks goes to Boito, the genius librettist who masterfully digested the story in the spirit of Shakespeare. Surely nowhere in drama-made-opera is there so telling a condensation as the second act of "Otello," where within about forty minutes, with one deft stroke after another, Iago reduces Otello from a confident man of action to a creature half mad with jealousy, barely in command of himself. It is excoriating drama and uncannily accurate music, crowned by the glorious duet "Si, pel ciel" sung with mounting intensity.

Bringing his world-class Otello to Utah opera is George Gray, whose heroic voice has a pleasing, beautiful tone, and who stands up to this punishing music generally without strain, conveying both vocally and physically the turmoil of his character. He looks the part of the tortured Moor perfectly and never descends to screaming or overacting, in a gripping performance.

So polished is Roy Stevens' Iago that one has difficulty believing this is his first outing in the role. He creates the manipulative dark presence of a sophisticated dissembler, who changes face chameleon-like as expediency demands. His "Credo" is evil made audible (though the whispered "Nulla!" misfired on opening night), his "Cassio's Dream" a fine insinuation.

Natalia Rom makes a lovely Desdemona, sweet-natured and bewildered, who rises to poignance and great vocal beauty in the bedroom scene, where her Willow Song suggests a girl preoccupied and distressed, followed by a pure Ave Maria, haunted by premonitions. The voice is beautiful and of ample volume with fine pianissimo, but she should curb a tendency to excessive vibrato in stressful moments.

Minor characters are well-served in this production, as James Miller sings with authority as the attractive Cassio, Andrea Evans plays a sympathetic Emilia, Valentin Peytchinov is the perceptive Lodovico and Eric Glissmeyer a vital Montano, with Dave Arnold as Roderigo. The chorus trained by Dean Ryan expresses itself confidently, especially in the difficult, chaotic storm scene that opens the opera.

The production is a handsome one, in the spirit of the Venetian Republic, with conventional settings that convey a sunlit feeling of island openness. Costumes by Susan Memmott Allred are of authentic design, opulent with rich brocades and metallic fabrics.