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Giuseppe VERDI (1813 – 1901) Otello (1887)
Vladimir Atlantov (tenor) – Otello; Kiri Te Kanawa (soprano) – Desdemona; Piero Cappuccilli (baritone) – Iago; Antonio Bevacqua (tenor) – Cassio; Gianfranco Manganotti (tenor) – Roderigo; Gianfranco Casarini (bass) – Ludovico); Flora Rafanelli (mezzo) – Emilia; Orazio Mori (bass) – Montano; Gianni Brunelli (bass) – A Herald
Orchestra and Chorus of the Arena di Verona/Zoltan Pesko
Producer: Gianfranco De Bosio; Designer: Vittorio Rossi; Directed for video by Preben Montell; Produced for video by Robin Scott
Recorded live in the Arena di Verona in 1982.
WARNER NVC ARTS 4509-99214-2 [approx. 138:00]

After initial features about the the building of the sets and some pictures of people gathering for the evening’s performance, the opera opens with that famous storm scene, which Zoltan Pesko leads with the required rhythmic drive. The chorus, as always in Verona, is good and the sheer size of it means that there is no lack of power. Compared to the Nabucco from the same source that I reviewed recently, this performance brims with life and movement. There is some inventive use of lighting effects and the camera work is expertly done. Very often when watching opera on video I feel that I would like to see different things than the producer has chosen but in this case we are in total agreement. Once the turmoil of the first act is over the drama unfolds mostly in close-ups, allowing us to follow the many nuances of the acting and experience Otello’s gradual mental destruction.

Close-ups can of course be mercilessly revealing when the singers are less than formidable actors but in this case there are no such hang-ups. The three main characters are sung and acted utterly convincingly and the great surprise may be Kiri Te Kanawa’s very believable portrait of the innocent Desdemona. So much has been written about her all-purpose acting and lack of understanding of the text. Everyone suffering from this preconception should at once get this DVD - they will be in for a great surprise. Kiri is Desdemona, she is the happy, loving wife of the first act, she is the caring friend who pleads for Cassio’s cause in the second act, she is horrified but still incredulous in the third act and in the fourth sad and desperate. A moving portrayal! And she sings gloriously. The first act love duet, the scene with the flower maidens, the willow song – all is so lovely. And can Ave Maria ever be better done? I have been a great fan of Kiri’s since I first came across her in the early 1970s and have loads of her records. However I doubt if she sings as magnificently as this on any of them.

By her side, at least in the first act, is Vladimir Atlantov who is as close to being a perfect Otello as one can expect to hear. His enormous voice is in perfect condition, steady, penetrating and also finding the lyrical undertones that so often elude Otellos. And he never tires. He is also a great actor as I well remember from hearing and seeing him in this role at Covent Garden only a few years later. Caught here on absolute top form he is on a par with Domingo and Giuseppe Giacomini ... maybe even surpassing them.

And the evil powers have a formidable advocate in Piero Cappuccilli’s Iago, a role he never recorded on commercial audio discs but here caught at a happy moment with the voice still in appealing condition. In close-up he stands out as a marvellously oily schemer, working with small means, which makes him even more dangerous. His Credo in act 2 is a masterpiece of acting and singing and he also makes the most of the Dream.

With such a great trio taking the central roles the minor parts tend to be even more over-shadowed than usual but none of the other singers let things down, and with fine sets, tasteful costumes and good sound this issue must be strongly recommended. There are other DVDs of Otello around that I haven’t tried, but this was definitely one of the finest experiences of a standard opera I have seen, live or elsewhere, for a long time.


Göran Forsling


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