Notes and Editorial Reviews
Again and again Domingo makes you feel how Otello's soul is on the rack -- he is overwhelmingly moving, and the death is the more touching for being restrained.
This is probably the most exciting Otello since Toscanini's. For, although the Levine (RCA) in some way runs it close, the advantage of this recording being made at roughly the same time as the Shooting of the Zeffirelli film (with the same team) is clear from the sense of involvement heard on all sides. Maazel's dynamic conducting, like Levine's, follows Toscanini's in most matters of tempo and in his insistence on important instrumental and rhythmic detail, as in the double dotting of the strings at the start of Otellos monologue, in the mandolin accompaniment
to the chorus in Act 2, and earlier in a very evident organ pedal note throughout the opening chorus. Maazel's is a highly dramatic, theatrical reading, but one which is equally aware of the need for eloquence and pathos in both the projection of the central agony of Otello and the pathos of Desdemona's music. I faulted him only twice: the passage of recitative after Iago's Credo is too hurried, as is "Ora e per sempre", perhaps at Domingo's request, as the same thing happens on the Levine set. Maazel gives due weight and intensity to the big Act 3 concertato. In all this he is thrillingly supported by the Scala forces. The orchestra's string tone is as sweet and warm as the brass is incisive. The choral singing simply surpasses anything I have ever heard in this work, and it is superbly caught by the spacious recording.
It is Domingo, according to Zeffirelli's brief comment in the booklet (reprinted on page 539), who urged him to make the film because he (Domingo) felt his interpretation was now "ready, ripe for the part". Domingo himself says that "there is no greater burden and no greater reward than this" (see page 539). After singing almost 100 performances of the role, he naturally evinces much more experience and involvement than was obviously possible eight years ago. The greater knowledge shows itself in a much more detailed and taut inflection of the text and a more tragic feeling in the tone, which is itself more varied in colour than previously. The baritonal darkness, so effective in recitative-like passages, is still there, but now it is seconded by more incisive attack at the top. He still doesn't possess the trumpet-like open-throated declamation of singers such as the Italian tenors Zenatello and Lauri-Volpi, but he is more accurate than either of these, more musical than they or probably any other Otello other than Martinelli (Pearl).
Again and again Domingo now makes you feel how Otello's soul is on the rack, both in forcing ever more jealous-making details from Iago and in berating Desdemona: Domingo is overwhelmingly moving in the Third Act duet (note the way he copes with Verdi's voce suffocate at the close) and the succeeding monologue where he follows Martinelli in taking the phrase "e rassegnato . . . del ciel" in a single breath. The death is the more touching for being restrained. The moments of fiery command, before his disputing lieutenants in Act l and before the Venetian envoys in Act 3, have all the energetic authority they should have. Has any other Otello, on the other hand, had such a smooth, finely etched legato as Domingo in the love duet? In all these points his central performance surpasses that on the earlier set, but above all it conveys tragic stature.
Justino Diaz is, in a way, the pleasant surprise of the set. On former recorded and live evidence, I did not expect to hear him give such a subtle performance as he does here. Under Maazel's alert tutelage (no doubt) he is obedient to almost all Verdi's copious dynamic markings, particularly prominent in Iago's part. He makes much of the words, but can't quite match Gobbi or Valdengo in that respect, partly because his voice has bass undertones, just as does Bacquier's on the Solti/Decca version. Indeed, his reading reminds me very much of Bacquier's both in tone and manner, finding an almost cheerful bluffness in the role, but Diaz's singing is the more secure. His isn't the most convincing Iago on record, but in this context his reading is very much of a piece with Domingo's Otello, and you can feel how the two have worked together on a stage production.
As so often with Desdemona, the role brings the very best out of the soprano taking it. I have seldom heard a more tender, vulnerable Desdemona than Ricciarelli's, absolutely ideal in the many dolce, piano moments in the role, bringing tears to the eyes in her totally feminine pleading in the Act 3 duet, shaping her last act scene with deep sensibility—her finest performance on record to date. Listen to the passage starting "se inconscia", Desdemona's first moment of concern: it is a precursor in sad timbre of so much that is to come. True she doesn't have the spinto fullness of tone of many predecessors in the part, Margaret Price for instance (for Solti), but she matches Levine's Scotto in intelligence and on the whole makes the pleasanter sound. Again, she fits in well with the whole concept. I regret that the minor roles have not been more strongly cast. All the voices sound to me distinctly second-rate though none is other than correct. The Cassio, like Diaz, is somewhat hurried by Maazel's speed for "Questa e una ragna". The performance is enhanced by the lifelike recording produced by James Mallinson in the Milan Conservatory.
-- Gramophone [10/1986]
Review of original release EMI47450
Works on This Recording
Otello by Giuseppe Verdi
Ezio Di Cesare (Tenor),
Constantin Zaharia (Tenor),
Petra Malakova (Mezzo Soprano),
Katia Ricciarelli (Soprano),
John Macurdy (Bass),
Giannicola Pigliucci (Baritone),
Placido Domingo (Tenor),
Justino Diaz (Bass),
Edward Toumajian (Bass)
Milan Teatro alla Scala Orchestra,
Milan Teatro alla Scala Chorus
Written: 1887; Italy
Length: 141 Minutes 14 Secs.
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