Thomas R. Bodden | 09/04/2008
(3 out of 5 stars)
"As I accumulate a library of Operatic and Ballet performances I am especially attuned to the technical aspects of the recording, such as audio mix, lighting etc. This performance has a less than perfect audio mix. The orchestra is well represented but the singers sound distant. Microphone placement maybe? It is one of the reasons many live performances that are recorded do not sound as good as the film version. The people who put a film together seem to be very good at getting these things right. I have to agree with the reviewer who praised Kiri and panned Placido. His acting is very good but this opera seemed to test his range. But this too may have been related to the mike placement. The lighting was also minimal in many scenes."
An OTELLO for the Ages
J. De Sapio | Washington, DC | 02/14/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I have known and loved this OTELLO for nearly ten years now, having first watched it on videotape. The Elijah Moshinsky production for the Royal Opera, Covent Garden, taped live in 1992, features what could be Placido Domingo's definitive version of a role he began singing in 1975. As I have Domingo's 1978 recording of OTELLO (co-starring Renata Scotto and Sherrill Milnes and conducted by James Levine), I can't help but compare his performance on the CD to that on the video. His '78 account was wonderful from an interpretive standpoint, and vocally he was in his very prime. But in '92 nearly every phrase, every utterance, was more intense than before, while his voice, fully mature and bronze in tone, was in excellent condition if not quite as free and "giving" as in '78. However, his legato at the start of the Love Duet was still a marvel; and his acting was brilliant. As Iago's poison works in him, this Otello suffers the agonies of the damned, expressed physically (he clutches at his head when distressed, reminding us that Shakespeare's Othello is an epileptic) as well as vocally. The climax of it all is a "Dio, mio potevi scagliar" that is greatness itself. Surely Domingo's Otello was seldom any better than this.
Slender, blonde, and fair, Kiri Te Kanawa is visually an ideal Desdemona. She looks beautiful in pale sea green and peach blush-colored dresses, designed by Peter J. Hall. Those who know Te Kanawa's birth-year (1944) might be concerned she would have passed her vocal prime by 1992. Not to worry: she is in radiant, youthful-sounding voice here. Her singing is passionate and emotionally involved. As far as her acting is concerned, she is a worthy partner for Domingo. The drama gains by her underplaying of certain moments ("Guarda il prime lagrime," for example). One's sympathy is with her Desdemona throughout the opera.
I have mixed feelings about Sergei Leiferkus' vocal suitability for Iago's music. One could hardly imagine a better voice for the CHARACTER of Iago: a cold, heartless voice, poison as sound. But it is not truly a Verdian instrument. First, it is on the small side; this makes for an underpowered "Credo." Secondly, Leiferkus cannot or will not use much mezza-voice, which means that his "Era la notte" lacks insinuation and nuance. Yet this is an unforgettable Iago. The usual approach (by both actors and operatic baritones) to this famous villain is to be affable and charming in the "public" scenes. To Otello, Leiferkus shows a man utterly lacking in charm, who has but one saving grace: total, even brutal, honesty. Of course, this "honesty" is a pretense -- and to the audience Leiferkus shows a man with no saving graces whatsoever, an evil person to his core.
Covent Garden tenor Robin Leggate - always a lively singing actor - is present as Cassio, a role he made very much his own. Bass Roderick Earle also stands out, as a sonorous Montano. Mezzo-soprano Claire Powell is dramatically involved if occasionally hooty as Emilia, Desdemona's attendant and Iago's wife.
This is something of a minimalist production, not as sumptuous as one might like in certain scenes - the Act III assembly, for one. Otello, who might be a sub-Saharan African or a Moor, is here made up as the latter. The stage direction includes one moment in particular that symbolizes the cultural "distance" between Otello and his wife. During the Love Duet, Otello, praying for the permanence of his newfound bliss, begins to face Mecca, arms extended; for her "Amen risponda" Desdemona gently brings his hands together, as if to form the traditional sign of Christian prayer.
Sir Georg Solti, the great Wagnerian maestro, conducts what is in some ways the most Wagnerian of Verdi's scores. Predictably, his tempi are generally swifter than Levine's, and there is a bracing account of the "storm chorus" ("Dio, fulgor della bufera..."). This first scene, it must be said, does not come over well on video, being too cramped and darkly lit. But that and the aforementioned reservations about Leiferkus' voice are the only drawbacks I have found in this magnificent OTELLO -- a performance for the ages.
Romualdo A. Monteclar | new york | 11/16/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is one of Domingo's best role, and
he plays it to the hilt; Te Kanawa is his
terrific equal. Overall this cd is a must-have.