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Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Otello (1884-6)
Placido Domingo (tenor) – Otello; Kiri Te Kanawa (sop) – Desdemona; Sergei Lieferkus (bar) – Iago; Robin Leggate (ten) – Cassio; Ramon Remedios (ten) – Roderigo; Claire Powell (mezzo) – Emilia; Mark Beesley (bass) – Lodovico; Roderick Earle (bar) – Montano
Chorus and Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden/Sir Georg Solti
rec. Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, 23, 27 October 1992
Directed for the stage by Elijah Moshinsky
Directed for TV by Brian Large
Experience Classicsonline

This particular performance has been available in other formats for some years, so may well be known to Verdians. It’s now re-issued as part of the Royal Opera House Collection but as far as I can tell, is exactly the same. It was always quite highly regarded, particularly for the virile Domingo, here at the peak of his Otello career, and for the energetic conducting of the octogenarian Solti in the pit.

I’m coming new to it, and keenly anticipated the experience. In the event, there are many excellent things offset by a few disappointments. First of these is the sound and picture quality, which are simply not what we expect of DVD opera releases today. The picture is slightly grainy, which one does adjust to, but the audio quality worried me at the start. The orchestra simply had no impact in that famous first chord, and throughout the busy opening scene the balance between chorus and individual singers varied disconcertingly.

Things do settle down somewhat later, when microphone placing obviously suited the scenes with only one or two characters onstage. The final act is best of all, so it’s only the big climactic moments that are of concern. It’s certainly no match technically for TDK’s 2001 DVD of Domingo’s swansong in the part, with Muti in the pit (see review).

Having said that, Domingo’s 1992 voice is that bit more thrilling in a part he probably never gave a bad performance of; the top end rings out heroically, and he looks truly terrifying in the Act 3 frenzy towards Desdemona. All the subtleties of characterisation are there in abundance, and fans will want this DVD for his contribution alone. I’m not sure Kiri te Kanawa ever really suited Desdemona completely, lacking the innocence and vulnerability that others bring, especially Barbara Frittoli at La Scala. That said, she is a consummate professional and is in very good voice, so no-one will feel short-changed. The love duet at the end of Act 1 doesn’t tingle the spine as elsewhere, but is beautifully and simply staged, and the Act 4 denoument is very moving, though as in many productions Otello strangles rather than smothers her, as Shakespeare directs.

The third important principal, Sergei Lieferkus, is a bit dry and light-voiced for my liking, though he acts well and cuts a suitably oily figure. I do prefer a richer, darker voice in this part – Nucci is also a bit lacking in weight of tone for Muti – but, again, this is personal preference and he doesn’t exactly let the side down.

Solti is surprisingly sympathetic in the pit, accompanying throughout with great feeling for the singers and the longer line. It’s not quite as edge-of-seat as Muti, but sound quality may be a factor, though I feel the Scala orchestra are on better form overall than the Covent Garden pit. Elijah Moshinsky’s well travelled, traditional period production looks sumptuous, with every last detail present, including an abundance of lightning and huge cannon for the storm scene. Graham Vick’s Scala direction is a shade subtler, but Moshinsky’s vision has done sterling service for years and is a safe bet for a non-controversial library version.

Subtitles are good and even thoughtfully moved to the top of the screen when important action is at the bottom of the picture frame. Cuts to Solti and the pit are reserved purely for the start of acts, and there is only one cut to the audience at the very end, presumably so the camera could linger on Prince Charles and Lady Di in the Royal box. There are no extras, so given the better picture and sound on the TDK alternative, you may be advised to try and sample this one first, though Domingo’s central assumption is well worth the outlay.

Tony Haywood



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