Up come the lights and instantly your eye goes to the guy with his hair brushed back in a pair of pointy twin peaks, Kabuki makeup, and a suit of armor, like Mr. Mistoffelees from Cats caught moonlighting in Spamalot. Meet the Greek baritone Tassis Christoyannis in the Robert Wilson production of Otello, the last of Verdi’s many tragedies. As Jago, the trusted underling who will goad the Shakespearean Moor of Venice into murdering his angelic wife, Christoyannis delivers crisp malice in tones that are smooth, dark, lively, and rich. Given occasional directorial license to toss his head, shake his booty, and flex his claws (yes, he has claws), he scores his share of dramatic points, too. No one in the cast can touch him.

In case you’ve been wondering what the designer-director-creator of Einstein on the Beach has been up to lately, this Otello, filmed live last March at the Greek National Opera, in Athens, should satisfy your curiosity. You’d recognize Wilson’s brand anywhere—the stunning antiseptic visuals; the sculptural neo-Renaissance wardrobe; the stop-time strokes of Expressionist melodrama—yet each of his shows has its defining idiosyncrasies, and this one is no exception.

Bent wrists, lives snapped in two: Jago, right, and his insinuations reduce Otello to stop-action Expressionist histrionics.

For starters, there’s a preliminary video, in black and white, of a mother elephant lying beside an unmoving elephant calf as winds howl on the soundtrack. (Please, Bob, let this not be some allusion to the hero expiring over the corpse of his bride.) Then comes the earth-shattering dissonance of Verdi’s opening bars—there’s no overture—and we’re off and running. Which is to say the chorus is in place and the starting soloists (including Christoyannis at dead center) are in place, all facing forward like statues, going absolutely nowhere.

Aleksandrs Antoņenko shows up geisha-white as the dark-skinned Otello, whose ethnicity is a matter of academic debate; Cellia Costea is the hapless Desdemona, docile to a fault. Like living automata, the singers do as they’ve been told, standing ramrod straight with bent wrists, parading like figures on a clock tower, suddenly quivering and swatting the air. Musically, both are fighting a steep uphill battle.

Still, Wilson’s genius for stage pictures makes for some gorgeous viewing. Don’t miss the solid metal thunderbolts in the opening storm scene, lighting up in flashes. In the next act, thrill to rows of columns gliding against rows of columns. The third act is memorable for architectural fragments cascading from on high, and for the black sun that switches to red in the blink of an eye. In the fourth, the glistening midnight-blue backdrop blowing in the breeze is a thing of unaccountably melancholy beauty. Not that all this adds up to much of a production of Otello, but as window dressing (or installation art), it’s a solid A-minus—demerits for the dreary masks on the faces of the odd bit player and almost all of the chorus. The pandemic continues to exact its toll in ways large and small.

Otello is available for streaming on the Greek National Opera’s Web site GNO TV

Matthew Gurewitsch writes about opera and classical music for AIR MAIL. He lives in Hawaii