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Thread: Verdi on disc - Otello

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    Senior Member DavidA's Avatar
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    Default Verdi on disc - Otello

    This is reckoned to be Verdi's supreme masterpiece. He'd had a long layoff from composing but Boito, who had helped with the rewrite of Simon Boccanegra, presented him with the libretto taken from Shakespeare's play. I'd afraid I find the play rather boring, perhaps due to the way it is performed today. However, Verdi's opera is riveting from the storm that opens to the death scene. The operatic master at the height of his powers.
    There are many notable recordings out there. However, many fall short in one way or another. For me the chief character in the drama is Iago (Verdi even thought of calling it Iago), and unless his sinister and evil machinations are foremost as a thread running through, a major point of the opera is lost. The recent version at the ROH even had Iago starting the whole thing off - a great theatrical point.
    So what are your favourite versions you would recommend?
    Last edited by DavidA; Oct-18-2017 at 08:45.

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    Senior Member Granate's Avatar
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    Default From my Verdi Challenge too

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    Quote Originally Posted by Granate View Post

    Verdi
    Otello
    James McCracken, Gwyneth Jones, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Piero de Palma, Anna di Stasio, Florindo Andreolli, Alfredo Giacomonti, Leonardo Monreale, Glynne Thomas
    Boys from Upton House School
    Girls from Hammersmith County School
    Ambrosian Opera Chorus
    New Philharmonia Orchestra
    John Barbirolli
    Warner Classics (1968/1994 Reissue Edition)


    Barbirolli signs a top-choice Otello. British fans are totally right. The sound engineering for the special effects, the depth of the NPO and the unbeatable Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau as Jago delights my ears. Plus Gwyneth Jones as Desdemona with a bright and warm voice is very difficult to beat for me. McCracken is fine. Many say he is miscasted but I disagree.
    B
    2ND

    Quote Originally Posted by Granate View Post

    Verdi
    Otello
    Plácido Domingo, Renata Scotto, Sherrill Milnes, Judith Blegen, Frank Little, Paul Crook, Paul Plishka, Malcolm King, Jean Kraft
    Ambrosian Opera Chorus and Boys' Chorus
    National Philharmonic Orchestra
    James Levine
    Sony Classical (1978/2013 Remastered Edition)


    It's not only a safe buy: it's a recording to own. Domingo's Otello has grown on me and Milnes gained my respect as Jago. The general orchestral sound is loud and explosive, probably too explosive so the drama stops being there and it becomes a Greek Tragedy in the most caricaturesque sense, but it ends successfully without losing grip. Milnes' Jago is solid, and holds control of the character as the character controls the whole plot against Otello. Scotto's Desdemona is not exactly "delicate" or "refined"- It's quite strong but not too loud. The Love duet in Act I is intense, passional, whether they are stargazing or lying in bed. Orchestrally it's not a success, notably in the solid and decent "Credo in un Dio crudele". And this time I can empathise more with Domingo's Otello as a young, gullible, unwary commander.
    B-
    3RD

    Quote Originally Posted by Granate View Post

    Verdi
    Otello
    Carlo Cossutta, Margaret Price, Gabriel Bacquier, Petr Dvorský, Jane Berbié, Kurt Moll, Stafford Dean, Kurt Equiluz, Hans Helm
    Wiener Sangerknaben
    Konzertvereinigung Wiener Staatsopernchor
    Wiener Philharmoniker
    Georg Solti
    Decca (1978/1999 Remastered Edition)


    It leaves a long-lasting memory. This WPO plays with little passion but with a very big heart for the dramatic spins and lushful sadness of some pieces. I can notice it. In Acts III and IV the opera comes to its tragic form with the three main performers singing with clear voices and refinement (M. Price's Desdemona over all).
    C+
    That is my top three. I come to terms that I should avoid any Karajan: the Vienna rec. feels duller than many for me. No one from the main trio satisfies me. The Berlin rec has Vickers as the main problem, while Glossop is too decent. Freni is the one to listen to.

    You could check out the recent Riccardo Muti / Chicago Symphony Orchestra release. I listened to it and it's quite good.

    I agree with DavidA that Jago is the main character of the drama. It's the first singer I review and the character I empathise the most with, rather than the gullible, foolish Otello and the helpless and innocent Desdemona. "Credo in un Dio Crudele" is an anthem for me, where he portrays his nihilism. I find him a caricature of Atheism done by Boito based on Shakespeare. I am atheist, but I know that the libretto cannot be changed. This is where I disagree with DavidA. I refuse to believe in the drama of the ill-fated couple and prefer Jago to win thanks to his wittiness and lust for vengeance. So in Jago's characterisation, I avoid any Disney-villain mwahaha style and embrace soulful and elegant interpretations as the ones from Sherrill Milnes and above all, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, doing evil like he is singing Lieder. I generally emphathise with villains and antagonists in fiction unless they are very dumb or one-dimensional (e.g. Giorgio Germont, Enrico di Lammermoor, Erik).

    So that is my take on an opera that I do not see as dramaticatically complex as La Traviata, Il Trovatore or, Above all, Don Carlo and Aida. But musically, it goes along with those two with the continuous melody and the ends of Act I and Act IV.

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    From bar one: tension and a stunning recording/ singing.


    For all the right reasons and..... I was there whilst recording.
    First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.
    "Mahatma Gandhi"

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    Senior Member WildThing's Avatar
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    For my money Jon Vickers was the greatest Otello of the second half of the 20th century.

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    Senior Member howlingfantods's Avatar
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    41EBMHR2QAL.jpg

    My favorite performance. Surprisingly poor audio quality though for a performance from the 70s recorded for TV broadcast. Not for those who dislike too much audience noise--they burst into applause after Iago's credo, shush or argue with each other, a fun night at La Scala apparently.

    I've never heard Domingo sing the role better, live or in studio. I generally prefer him live, but he is really special here--at times in the studio, he can seem overly concerned with how he's sounding, like you can hear him being very deliberate with vocal color and intonation. Here though, he's just singing out magnificently. Freni and Cappuccilli aren't in my very top rank of performers for this role but they're again better than usual here, swept up by the vigor and intensity of Kleiber's conducting.

    I've searched in vain for another Kleiber/Domingo performance that matches this one with better sound, but unfortunately the only other two I've been able to find are both deeply flawed as a result of the blatantly ugly vocal stylings of Silvano Carolli as Iago.

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    Senior Member Barbebleu's Avatar
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    My first Verdi opera and still my favourite. I have a few versions so I'll need to go and have a think about which, if any, is a favourite.

    Having had a while to reflect I've narrowed it down to three. Vickers with Serafin, McCracken with Barbirolli and Vinay with Toscanini.
    Last edited by Barbebleu; Oct-18-2017 at 23:30.
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    Difficult one, but this needs a mention:

    Otello.jpg

    N.

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    Senior Member wkasimer's Avatar
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    I'm probably the only one who likes this one:

    otello chung.jpg

    The conducting is exciting and dramatic, and Studer is a nearly perfect Desdemona. I'm not a Domingo fan by any means, but this strikes me as his best recording of the role. I *am* a Leiferkus fan, and his Iago is superb, but I recognize that his voice is an acquired taste.

    Some off-the-beaten-track choices:

    otello_vardy.jpg

    Superb conducting from Kleiber, and great singing from Varady and Cossutta. Cappuccilli is his usual bland self, which is preferable to some of scenery-chewers.

    otello_hopf.jpg

    Yeah, wrong language, but this was a great role for Hopf, and Metternich is a terrific Iago.

    And of course, there's this one:

    otello_panizza.jpg

    The sonics are a challenge, of course, but it's hard to imagine a better cast than this.

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    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Granate View Post
    I agree with DavidA that Jago is the main character of the drama. It's the first singer I review and the character I empathise the most with, rather than the gullible, foolish Otello and the helpless and innocent Desdemona. "Credo in un Dio Crudele" is an anthem for me, where he portrays his nihilism. I find him a caricature of Atheism done by Boito based on Shakespeare. I am atheist, but I know that the libretto cannot be changed. This is where I disagree with DavidA. I refuse to believe in the drama of the ill-fated couple and prefer Jago to win thanks to his wittiness and lust for vengeance. So in Jago's characterisation, I avoid any Disney-villain mwahaha style and embrace soulful and elegant interpretations as the ones from Sherrill Milnes and above all, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, doing evil like he is singing Lieder. I generally emphathise with villains and antagonists in fiction unless they are very dumb or one-dimensional (e.g. Giorgio Germont, Enrico di Lammermoor, Erik).

    So that is my take on an opera that I do not see as dramaticatically complex as La Traviata, Il Trovatore or, Above all, Don Carlo and Aida. But musically, it goes along with those two with the continuous melody and the ends of Act I and Act IV.
    I too find that Iago is the really interesting character in Otello. That isn't to say that he's the most comprehensible; that honor might go to Cassio or Emilia! Iago is probably the most completely evil character in all of opera, which his mustache-twirling "credo" (really just a not-very-credible poetic flourish on the part of Boito) gets nowhere close to explaining. Not much more comprehensible is Otello's gullibility and stunning lack of character judgment, a bad flaw in a supposed noble leader. Then we have Desdemona's basic anonymity and pathetic passivity...

    The story seems contrived, in retrospect, solely for the purpose of creating an excuse for Verdi's magnificent score (as it originally provided an excuse for Shakespeare's poetry and for great actors to portray extremes of emotion onstage). But perhaps it was something more to the composer: perhaps the inexplicable motivations of the characters, the fact that they seem like pawns in some diabolical chess game, gave Verdi a chance to express his own deepest view of human nature and human life as fundamentally meaningless and governed totally by malevolent forces that make a mockery of our hopes and ideals - in which case Iago's credo may be Verdi's own. But however we view it, as we submit ourselves to Verdi's music we're willing to accept its reality, and even to feel that we're listening to the composer's masterpiece. Such is the power of opera, if not indeed the very essence of it. If the music is good enough, it can make us accept almost anything!

    One thing I have to believe, in order to enjoy this opera, is that Otello really is a noble hero with a tragic flaw. Only his nobility makes his disgraceful downfall anything other than sordid and pathetic, and Verdi, understanding that, has given him the necessary musical stature. Fullfilling that condition requires a voice of heroic quality: a Tamagno, a Melchior, a Del Monaco, a Vickers. Iago, on the other hand, needs above all a great singing actor, who can make the character's mysteriously demonic character subtle and absorbing; he has to seem evil to us, but not to Otello (lest we find our gullible hero even more incredibly obtuse). Desdemona, having nothing interesting in her personality to engage us, needs primarily a lovely, warm, expressive voice capable of projecting in the third act ensemble and giving us a ravishingly beautiful Willow Song and Ave Maria.

    For me these conditions have always been best satisfied by the old RCA recording under Serafin, with Jon Vickers in his prime and Tito Gobbi as an ideal Iago. Leonie Rysanek may not have Tebaldi's classic Italian warmth as Desdemona, but she's sympathetic enough in what is the least important of the three principal roles. I like the lack of overdrive in Serafin's conducting, which is always knowing and sensitive and allows the opera to be as noble and humane as it can be.

    I've never cared for the distinctly unheroic voice of Domingo as Otello, although he acted the part superbly.
    Last edited by Woodduck; Oct-18-2017 at 20:51.

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    Senior Member MAS's Avatar
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    I know this man has been getting a bad rap for the last few years, but I love the imagery in his opera films. I’m not a fan of Domingo, either, but I must say Zeffirelli gets the best out of him. The score is, alas, truncated for the needs of the film.
    Still, I like it.

    345CA3D5-72FA-43C4-9074-5007EF0A1A21.jpg

    As for the title role, I’ll take Vickers or McCracken, totally unhinged.

    A7F680F9-40A9-4B95-8058-CFC910030AEB.jpeg

    Wish Corelli had recorded it!
    Last edited by MAS; Oct-18-2017 at 22:02.

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    Senior Member howlingfantods's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by wkasimer View Post
    I'm probably the only one who likes this one:

    otello chung.jpg

    The conducting is exciting and dramatic, and Studer is a nearly perfect Desdemona. I'm not a Domingo fan by any means, but this strikes me as his best recording of the role. I *am* a Leiferkus fan, and his Iago is superb, but I recognize that his voice is an acquired taste.

    Some off-the-beaten-track choices:

    otello_vardy.jpg

    Superb conducting from Kleiber, and great singing from Varady and Cossutta. Cappuccilli is his usual bland self, which is preferable to some of scenery-chewers.

    otello_hopf.jpg

    Yeah, wrong language, but this was a great role for Hopf, and Metternich is a terrific Iago.

    And of course, there's this one:

    otello_panizza.jpg

    The sonics are a challenge, of course, but it's hard to imagine a better cast than this.
    I'm a pretty big fan of the Chung recording actually. Leiferkus does sound very slavic for someone named "Iago" but after a few spins, the incongruity abated.

    That Kleiber looks very promising, I'll have to hunt that down. I enjoy Cossutta on the Solti and I always appreciate what little of Varady I've heard.

    Hard to believe you on Hopf, but I've long resented him for ruining the Karajan Meistersinger. Have you ever heard this one?

    51TMxhytw0L._SY355_.jpg

    This is the random German language version I have and like--Ralf is excellent and Schoffler is caught a little closer to his prime than in the Furtwangler. Lovely performance from Konetzni too.

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    Senior Member wkasimer's Avatar
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    Hard to believe you on Hopf, but I've long resented him for ruining the Karajan Meistersinger.
    He's terrible there. I think that it's always a mistake for a real baritonal heldentenor to sing Walther. Melchior knew this, and never sang the role.

    I heard that Preiser recording with Ralf a long time back, and remember liking him, but don't recall much else about the performance.

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    I have the Levine recording with Domingo and Scotto, as well as the Karajan with Del Monaco and Tebaldi. Of the two I'm not sure which one I like the best, I haven't heard this opera enough to make an opinion on that yet. It's a difficult opera for me, but Verdi is my favorite opera composer and I really like Shakespeare's Othello, so I do look forward to listening more and understanding the music.

    I intend to get one more recording, I definitely want Jon Vickers as Otello. I'm slightly leaning toward the Vickers conducted by Karajan which has the added bonus of Mirella Freni. But I don't know yet.
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    Senior Member Itullian's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sonata View Post
    I have the Levine recording with Domingo and Scotto, as well as the Karajan with Del Monaco and Tebaldi. Of the two I'm not sure which one I like the best, I haven't heard this opera enough to make an opinion on that yet. It's a difficult opera for me, but Verdi is my favorite opera composer and I really like Shakespeare's Othello, so I do look forward to listening more and understanding the music.

    I intend to get one more recording, I definitely want Jon Vickers as Otello. I'm slightly leaning toward the Vickers conducted by Karajan which has the added bonus of Mirella Freni. But I don't know yet.
    The Karajan is cut.
    The Serafin is the one to get.
    When all else fails, listen to Thick as a Brick.

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    Senior Member DavidA's Avatar
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    The central character for me is Iago. He is intrinsically evil and consumed by his jealousy that Otello promoted someone (Cassio) above him. Hence his desire to bring down the Moor. There also seems some oblique racism involved. This black man is ruling over us? To cap ut all, Iago is an unbeliever - his atheistic Credo makes that clear - and hence he must be evil. Verdi was, of course, an unbeliever himself but I don't think this is his Credo. It is Boito's (not Shakespeare's) invention, slotted in to emphasise the evil nature of Iago. And of course the master of theatre that Verdi is, he sets it with melodramatic force. Iago's mask falls. We know what he is without doubt. His scheming and nanipulation to destroy come from his black, unbelieving heart.
    For me Otello is unhinged beneath a cloak of nobility. He is of course a warrior and a killer. He is also savage and unpredictable. The greatest Otellos will have this. Nothing else can explain the swift passage from adoring love to psychotic murder over a handkerchief!
    Desdemona is the innocent - at least in Verdi's version. She is the pure one caught between the scheming villain and her increasingly unhinged husband.
    Added to which this is perhaps Verdi's greatest score so we must have a true maestro at the helm.

    So where does that leave us?

    Versions I have:

    Karajan 1 - superbly played and conducted. Tebaldi is the great performance here. Del Monaco is (well) Del Monaco - as subtle as a pile driver but wonderful in the animalistic bits. Culshaw originally hired Bastianini as Iago but he failed to learn his part so Protti was brought in. He had a good voice and gives an adequate performance but one which really fails to sound sinister enough.

    Serafin - the young Vickers before he had sung the role on stage. He later added subtleties to it but this is fresh voice
    Rysanek - not really her part. She is adequate but not a patch on Tebaldi.
    The reason anyone should own this recording is the Iago of Tito Gobbi. As complete as you will ever find. Incomperable!
    Serafin was the master of Italian opera but for me does not bring out all the drama. He was getting on in the years when he made this recording and it maybe shows!

    Levine - this is a tremendous all-round performance, with the young Domingo, a wonderful Desdemona in Scotto, and a creitable Iago in Milnes. For me Levine brings out the drama and really catches you by the throat.

    Karajan 2 - for some unaccountable reason Karajan cuts the score. Minor cuts but irritating nonetheless in a recording. Unfortunately no one dared to stand up to him and tell him to record the whole thing. The conducting and playing is superb, Vickers gives us a psychotically unhinged Otello, Freni a touching Desdemona and Glossop, a superb Iago on stage, is somewhat bluff.

    Chung - wild conducting but it convinces. Domingo superb, Studer tremendous, Leiferkus an acquired taste.

    Solti with Pavarotti - some fine singing but did the guy have the voice for Otello? Not really. Te Kanawa is a lovely Desdemona but couldn't anyone else be found than the (by then) inadequate Nucci to sing Iago. Solti's conducting strangely tepid.

    All of the above versions are enjoyable. A choice is very difficult but all round the Levine, but with a 'must' for Gobbi's Iago.
    Last edited by DavidA; Oct-20-2017 at 00:29.

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