Notes and Editorial Reviews
erdi’s opera Othello in a sympathetic studio recording from the early years of television. The camera’s roving eye lends Otto Schenk’s production an intimacy which inspires a vocal and dramatic tour de force from Wolfgang Windgassen and Sena Jurinac in the roles of the tragic lovers Othello and Desdemona. Musical direction is in the hands of the great Verdi conductor Argeo Quadri. For unlike with other opera films, the producers in Vienna did not use playback but recorded each scene live. A further drawback was the fact that the television studios were too small to accommodate a full-size opera orchestra. The musicians and conductor were situated in an acoustically appropriate but geographically separate hall, linked to the film studio only
by cables and monitors. This arrangement called for utmost concentration from all parties. The scenes were recorded live; editing technology as we know it today did not exist, so the work involved filming lengthy passages and repeating them as necessary.
The very particular value of this video, now available to all fans of opera for the first time on DVD, is that it documents in convincing fashion the great German Verdi tradition – a tradition in which Othello has always maintained a leading position.
Othello – Wolfgang Windgassen
Desdemona – Sena Jurinac
Jago – Norman Mittelmann
Emilia – Margarita Lilova
Cassio – William Blankenship
Rodrigo – Adolf Dallapozza
Lodovico – Walter Kreppel
Montano – Willy Ferenz
Herold – Leo Heppe
Vienna Boys' Choir
Vienna State Opera Chorus
(chorus master: Norbert Balatsch)
South German Radio Symphony Orchestra
Argeo Quadri, conductor
Otto Schenk, stage director
Gerhard Hruby, set design
Leni Bauer Ecsi, costume designer
Historical Studio Production, 1965
Picture format: NTSC 4:3 B/W
Sound format: PCM Mono
Region code: 0 (worldwide)
Subtitles: English, German, French, Spanish, Italian
Running time: 134 mins
No. of DVDs: 1 (DVD 9)
R E V I E W:
For the historically inclined reader this is a real treat.
For someone growing up in the 1960s in the countryside of Sweden, far from any opera house, the only accessible way of
seeing opera, as opposed to
listening to it, was television. Luckily Swedish Television’s only channel at the time was quite generous to opera lovers. I remember seeing
Le nozze di Figaro twice from the Salzburg Festival, a German
Madama Butterfly (if I remember correctly with Anneliese Rothenberger), a German
Rigoletto with the great singing-actor Ernst Gutstein, a
Wozzeck with Walter Berry and several others including the famous Göran Gentele-Sixten Ehrling
Un ballo in maschera. I have no recollection of seeing this
Otello, more is the pity since I had come under the spell of Karajan’s Decca recording and really longed to see this opera. Now, 45 years later, I could muster little enthusiasm, considering the experience would involve a black and white TV film in mono sound and on top of that sung in German.
How wrong I was! The sound isn’t bad, nowhere near the old Decca but well defined and with acceptable dynamics. The quality of the pictures is very good and with good lighting, Otto Schenk and his camera crew, have succeeded in creating atmospheric scenes, almost in the manner of Ingmar Bergman. There’s a dark and threatening opening scene at the harbour with roaring winds and the people in horror. All the following scenes are evocative through the interplay of light and shade. Created in the studio there was no room for overviews, even the massed scenes are shown in fragments with a lot of individual roles for the members of the chorus. Light and shade, drama and repose succeed each other in a dramaturgical ebb and flow that sustains narrative tension throughout.
Argeo Quadri was for many years one of the most sought after Italian conductors. He is best known to record collectors for accompanying some of the greatest singers’ recital discs. Names like Birgit Nilsson, Mario Del Monaco, Tom Krause and Gwyneth Jones come to mind. He leads a taut performance of
Otello with sensible tempos. It is hardly his fault that the music is cut off very brusquely at the end of acts. Whether it was his or the director’s choice to leave out the beautiful orchestral postlude to act I is difficult to know but every musician should in all likelihood grit his/her teeth at such a decision.
That the opera is sung in German - opera in the vernacular was still the order of the day in the 1960s - initially feels a bit strange, but one soon adjusts. I have listened to so many recordings from the 1920s and 1930s of excerpts from sundry operas, and
Jeder Knabe is quite OK for the opening phrase of Otello’s final solo
Niun mi tema. Leo Slezak, Martin Öhman and Lauritz Melchior - three superb Otellos during the inter-war years - have immortalized the aria using that wording.
Wolfgang Windgassen also belongs to their circle though from a later generation. A superb Wagnerian, with nineteen seasons at Bayreuth to his credit, his was not the super-sized voice of a Melchior but his innate musicality and expressive phrasing allowed him to become possibly the best Lohengrin, Tannhäuser, Siegfried and Tristan of his generation. His
Esultate! at his first entrance in
Otello may not ring out as gloriously as that of Mario Del Monaco on the Karajan recording, but he has thwe necessary intensity and his singing at the opening of the love duet is beautiful. Otello is surely for a heroic singer but there is so much more to the role and Windgassen’s portrait of the moor shows all the facets of this complicated character, being manipulated by Iago until he breaks down and finally kills his beloved wife. The confrontations with Iago make for great music theatre and the final monologue is heartbreaking.
Iago is sung by the Canadian baritone Norman Mittelmann, a singer I do not remember encountering before. Born in 1932 he was just past 30 when this recording was made. Vocally he is well up to the requirements for this devil in disguise. His insinuations are delivered with ingratiating tone and his distorted features are truly frightening in the masterly
Credo. Judging by his performance here it is a mystery that he wasn’t regularly heard on records during his heyday. The whole of act II is captivating from beginning to end.
Sena Jurinac is probably best remembered as one of the greatest Mozart sopranos during the post-war years, well documented on record. Her Desdemona is touching and vulnerable. Her tone, though not as lovely as in the 1950s when she was at the zenith of her career, matches her expressive looks.
The supporting cast is excellent and it was especially nice to see Adolf Dallapozza, who during the 1960s and 1970s was one of the finest lyric tenors. He was a good Alfred in
Fledermaus and was Solti’s choice as David in his first
Meistersinger. His Rodrigo is youthful and rather flamboyant whereas William Blankenship’s Cassio is a tragic victim of Iago’s scheming.
Those wanting a modern
Otello in good sound and sung in Italian need not bother about this issue. Even so, I was fascinated by the production and first and foremost by the interplay between Windgassen and Mittelmann. For the historically inclined reader this is a real treat.
-- Göran Forsling, MusicWeb International
Works on This Recording
Otello by Giuseppe Verdi
Adolf Dallapozza (Tenor),
Willy Ferenz (Baritone),
Margarita Lilova (Voice),
Leo Heppe (Bass),
Norman Mittelmann (Baritone),
Walter Kreppel (Bass),
Wolfgang Windgassen (Tenor),
William Blankenship (Tenor),
Sena Jurinac (Soprano)
Vienna State Opera Chorus,
South German Radio Symphony Orchestra,
Vienna Boys' Choir
Written: 1887; Italy
Date of Recording: 1965
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