A MAGNIFICENT OTELLO AND SUPERLATIVE KARAJAN
jfmaniaci | Broadbeach, Queensland, Australia | 01/28/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Verdi's Otello is the finest tragic opera ever written. The genial poet Boito wrote a beautifully compressed libretto that inspired Verdi to compose intensely dramatic, dynamic and complex music for great arias, duets and choral singing. Otello' s triumph over the Turks "Esultate!", the sweet and ethereal duet between Otello and his bride Desdemona "Già nella notte densa", Jago's cynical view on life "Credo in un Dio crudel", the revengeful oath-taking duet "Sì, pel Ciel marmoreo giuro!", Otello's regret for lost happiness "Dio, mi potevi scagliare", the andante then frenetic pezzo concertato of acclaims "Viva! Evviva!" (Venetian dignitaries, heralds, soldiers, Ladies and Gentlemen) ingrained with brooding soliloquies and utterances "...Emilia, una gran nube turba il senno d"Otello..." (Lodovico, Otello, Desdemona, Emilia, Jago), Desdemona's soulful prayer "Ave Maria", Otello's dishevelled suicide "Niun mi tema" and last heroic whisper "un altro bacio", the opera ending with two soft but solemn orchestral bars. On 5 February 1887 at the Teatro alla Scala, Milano, Verdi staged the world premiere of Otello after 16 years of silence. During that period, he reflected for a long time on his experience and the musical evolution of opera. He felt he had to conceive successfully something new to stay abreast of times. Otello was born. Boito became a decisive collaborator. He wrote the libretto "a struttura continua" which allowed the great master to break the old scheme of arias, duets, recitatives and develop a completely continuous discourse. Jon Vickers - The great Canadian tenor was born in 1926 at Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. After studying under George Lampert in Toronto, he made his debut in 1954 as the Duke of Mantua (Rigoletto) with the Canadian Opera Company in Toronto. During an illustrious career spanning over 28 years, he sang a variety of roles excelling in Beethoven's Fidelio as Florestan, the Wagnerians Siegmund, Parsifal and Tristan, the Italians Canio and Otello, the French Don José and the English Peter Grimes, in most of the major theatres of the world. His debut as Otello dates back to 1970 during the Salzburg Festival where he sang the role for the ensuing two years. In this 1974 rendition of Otello, one senses Vickers' mastery of the role and profound identification with the character throughout. When called upon to put on show the arduous vocality of Otello, some mediocrity creeps in. "Esultate" is not in the Lauri-Volpi or Del Monaco's glorious Italian tradition, the key words "Vien" and "un bacio" in the ethereal, amorous duet "Già nella notte densa" are whispered although some redemption is restored with a well sustained mezza voce in "...Venere splende", the ferocious and solemn oath-taking duet with Jago is a bit disappointing at the end, where "Dio vendicator" is a surprisingly short and colourless squillo, "Dio, mi potevi scagliare" is good in the piano monotone but colourless in the squillo "...Oh, gioia!" but "Niun mi tema" is quite a remarkable fraseggio. His Italian diction is fair.Mirella Freni - She belongs to the cream of Italian sopranos who made singing history from Storchio, Pandolfini, Favero, Pampanini, Olivero and recently to Scotto. Her Mimì was the most celebrated, perhaps the greatest of all Puccini's frail seamstresses. For vocal, expressive and scenic qualities, she became household name at Salzburg as Zerlina, Susanna, Elisabetta di Valois, last but not least Desdemona in the repertoire of the Austrian city' supreme son, Herbert von Karajan. Freni never performed better with any other conductor than with Karajan.In this 1974 edition of Otello, her Desdemona is cajoled, inspired, advised, even pushed by Karajan to use colours, refinements and sfumature to which she was not used. Her amorous canto in the love duet, the passionate, pure-hearted and exhilarating lament "A terra...si...nel livido fango..." prostrate on the floor of the castle hall of ceremonies in front of the stupefied Venetian dignitaries, the meditative, sad recollections in the Willow song and soulful prayer "Ave Maria" in her bed chamber are striking proof of an exceptional voice-orchestra fusion.Peter Glossop - A distinguished English baritone born in Sheffield and an excellent interpreter of the Italian Romantic Opera at Covent Garden and the major theatres of the world. His repertoire included Rigoletto, Count di Luna, Scarpia, Simon Boccanegra, Guy de Montfort (I Vespri Siciliani) and Jago. He had voice for sale, warm, expressive accents and great acting ability. His Rigoletto in particular was a voice of decades gone by. In this 1974 edition of Otello, his Jago is almost unmatched. His scenic presence is imposing, gestures and facial expressions, supported by a good mezza voce, weave a diabolical cynicism of nearly Tito Gobbi's dimensions while his "Credo in un Dio crudel" crowns him as the Mephistophelean villain so much aspired by Verdi, who found the monologue "most beautiful and wholly Shakespearean!"Herbert von Karajan - A native of Salzburg, he was only nineteen when he became permanent conductor at the Opera of Ulm in 1927, of Aquisgraine from 1935 to 1942, took the place of the great Wilhelm Furtwangler as conductor of the Berliner Philharmoniker in 1954 and became the Salzburg Festival director in 1956. He conducted in Italy frequently by interpreting Wagner and Mozart but also the Italian masters' operas, including Lucia, Falstaff, Traviata, Boheme and Cavalleria rusticana. He interpreted Tosca in Berlin, Trovatore in Vienna and Don Carlos at Salzburg. He was admired for a vast symphonic and operatic repertoire, conducting authority, live, incisive and dramatic style, great plasticity and constant pursuit of sound, vocal and orchestral beauty.In this 1974 edition of Otello, Karajan is the orchestra conductor, artistic and stage director. Known for his unsurpassable analytical ability, he leads the orchestra to a dismembering of each detail of the score with the best timbre possible. The tempi and sound of this Otello as interpreted and executed by Karajan are majestic, glorious, solemn, totally innovative and mesmerising. The staging is outdoors and not on the theatre platform. It is confined, done exquisitely and gives the impression of a stage production despite that the act I tempest scene is real and shot on the screen. The picture quality is excellent. The sound is superb stereo. Beautifully illustrated, the booklet is in English, German and French, contains a synopsis of the opera, no libretto but a partition of each act into the salient arias, duets, ensembles each accompanied by a very informative sequence of the plot and corresponding DVD track number."
The best video "Otello"
Robert G. VanStryland | Denton, TX USA | 08/17/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This film by Hebert von Karajan is the best rendition of Verdi's "Otello" available in any video format. The conducting and singing are superb and the drama is expressed with the utmost intensity. Jon Vickers is the best Otello in recent memory, superior even to Placido Domingo in vocal and dramatic power. Mirella Freni is a bit light-voiced for Desdemona, but she sings beautifully and looks like an angel. Peter Glossop sings the role of Iago with beauty and power, and sets just the right tone of evil playfulness. Picture and sound quality are both just fine. The supporting cast is wonderful, too, and includes Jose van Dam (Lodovico) and Michel Senechal (Roderigo).Karajan's cinematography is not as polished as Zeffirelli's, but it does present the essentials of the drama honestly and straightforwardly. The Zeffirelli film, although it has an excellent cast and looks beautiful, is an abomination. Starting with a perfectly good soundtrack, Zeffirelli proceeded to destroy Verdi's dramatic and musical conception by cutting out little snippets of the score (seemingly almost at random) to bring his movie to a length of less than two hours. As far as I know, his film has never been issued on DVD. I hope nobody bothers with it. Karajan's film is more stagebound and the lip synch isn't perfect, but his version is complete and dramatically compelling.There are two other good renditions of this opera on DVD: a London (Royal Opera) performance with Placido Domingo, Kiri Te Kanawa, and Sergei Leiferkus and a 1958 RAI telecast with Mario del Monaco, Rosanna Carteri, and Renato Capecchi, conducted by Tullio Serafin. The London performance is beautifully played and sung, but it's dramatically less intense than Karajan's film. The Italian telecast is a wonderful historical document, but it is better to hear than it is to see. The monaural sound is good and the black and white picture is clear enough, but the singers don't always appear comfortable lip-synching to a prerecorded sound track. Nevertheless, I recommend that you get it for the remarkable performances of del Monaco and Capecchi. But if you're looking for the one best "Otello" video, Karajan's is it."
Vickers is Otello
Robert G. VanStryland | 11/18/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I bought the disc for two reasons: first, that I had the pleasure of seeing Vickers in this role at Covent Garden in the early 1980s (a memory I would not trade for worlds); and second, that I'm always on the lookout for operas filmed cinematically rather than just taped stage productions. Vickers is every bit as powerful, vocally and otherwise, in this production as he was on stage, besides being paired with a superb Desdemona in Mirella Freni. The sound is luscious, though perhaps the dynamic range is too broad. As for the staging, it is a bit "stagey" despite the liberation of the camera from the proscenium view; even the storm lashing the beach looks suspiciously like buckets of water being tossed onto the stage. But what we have here is an honest attempt to present the opera as an opera rather than as a movie in the Zeffirelli style. The burden of the performance is on the performers, not on the cinematographers, and they carry it creditably. The picture quality is excellent. Overall the disc is a wonderful record of one of the great roles in operatic history: Vickers as Otello."
An exciting production in every sense
Brian Wrangham | Ottawa, Ontario Canada | 07/15/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This production of Otello is indeed a masterpiece. The performances of the three principals -- Jon Vickers as Otello, Mirella Freni as Desdemona and Peter Glossop as the treacherous Iago - are among the best one could wish for. On this occasion, I believe Vickers is on par with Placido Domingo, a consummate interpreter of the role of Otello. Freni's performance here, as was generally the case, bought me close to tears. A nastier villian (Peter Glossop)one could not wish for. In my opinion, the dramatic intensity of these three performers is equal and in some respects superior to any thing else available on video. Technically the video is very good, with an excellent picture and impeccable PCM stereo sound. A CD version of this production was available for many years and I found it to be superlative. The artistic direction of von Karajan is full of authority and drama. It should be noted that this production was shot in a film studio and in this case, because of the flexibility this affords the director is superior to a presentation in an opera house. The opening storm scene is indeed electrifying in its impact."