Notes and Editorial Reviews
Restored to quite acceptable mono sound with a lot of orchestral detail and a great deal of power in the orchestral forte passages, this 1955 recording can in no way compete with the spectacular Karajan recording on Decca, set down in Vienna six years later. On its own terms, however, it still has something to offer, musically and theatrically. There is certainly no lack of drama, the orchestral and choral forces of RAI in Torino are idiomatic and Franco Capuana, a very experienced operatic conductor, keeps the music on the move with fluent tempos. The choral sound is thin and undernourished and thus the first act with its monumental mass-scenes suffers. The sonorities of the chorus are also a bit uneven with some acidulous sopranos petering out at climaxes. Considering, though, that this is a 57-year-old recording from a company that wasn’t famous for hi-fi and that these sets mainly were broadcasts, performed at one go like any live performance we have to be grateful for what we get, one soon gets used to the limitations and the performance as such doesn’t feel small-scale.
Among the soloists we recognize the names of some regulars at the time. Tenors Angelo Mercuriali and Tommaso Soley, Cassio and Rodrigo respectively, were able comprimarios and so was Rina Corsi, who has very little to sing as Emilia, besides some concerted scenes. Marco Stefanoni as Lodovico has a few moments where his sonorous bass-baritone is exposed and one wishes this role was bigger, but he still can’t erase memories of Fernando Corena on the Karajan recording. None of these roles are very important for the overall impression of Otello, not even Cassio, though with a more positive and charismatic singer he can come to life.
The one singer I was sure to find appealing was Giuseppe Taddei. Roughly the same age as Tito Gobbi and Ettore Bastianini he never became quite the international star as the other two. ‘The Italians gave Tito Gobbi to the world but kept Taddei to themselves’, is a saying and there is perhaps a grain of truth in that. He was however also a frequent guest at the Vienna State Opera for many years and was seen in a number of other houses as well. A further factor that made him less spectacular for the public at large was his recorded legacy, which was fairly small and, whereas Gobbi and Bastianini recorded extensively for EMI and Decca respectively, Taddei stuck primarily to Cetra with inferior sound and often with fellow soloists of lesser stature. True, he recorded several Mozart roles for EMI, Macbeth and Tosca for Decca and even recorded Pagliacci for DG under Karajan.
Not blessed with the super voice of Bastianini and Merrill, he was far more expressive than either and challenges Gobbi in that respect. This Iago is a true evil character, and not through high-strung histrionics but through understatements and verbal acuity. The first act gives him few opportunities to excel in verbal nuances; his drinking song i suitably swaggering and malicious, but it is in the second act that he really takes command. The opening scene where he injects his poison in the innocent Cassio and then expresses his diabolic credo with chilling malevolence is masterly, one can see his contorted face and his glistering eyes and his laughter sends shivers down the spine. Even more masterly is his way of trapping Otello, step by step getting him under his spell and then delivering Era la notte close to the ear of Otello, confident, insinuating with honeyed tone. This is story telling of the highest order.
I knew nothing about the Otello, but looked him up and found that Carlos M. Guichandut was Argentinean, born in 1914 and started out as a baritone but later, when he came to Italy after the war, he took on tenor roles. He sang his first Otello in 1954 and it quickly became one of his signature roles. He has fairly little of the baritonal timbre that characterizes many Otellos. His is a rather bright tone, a little Martinelli like but not with the metallic intensity of his predecessor. He is steady, he can scale down his not super-big instrument and he has the stamina to carry through the evening without tiring, without losing the brilliance. At times his singing approaches shouting - at the end of act II he is very near his limits - but he never goes over the top. In the lower reaches of the voice the tone is on the dry side, but the top is unaffected. Niun mi tema is sensitive and noble. Here he has freed himself from the influence of Iago and realizes that he has reached the final page of his life.
Cesy Broggini, singing Desdemona, was another unknown capacity and initially I found her rather anonymous, singing well but not more than that. She comes more on her own in the second act, showing more soul, and in the third act, when her despair comes really to the fore, she is deeply moving. Here she becomes a real character, which is even more obvious in the last act, where we peer straight into her tormented soul in the willow song.
I approached the recording with some trepidation, suspecting that Taddei’s Iago would be the only redeeming factor but ended up being completely engrossed in the drama, the tenor and soprano, previously not even names to me, leaping out of the loudspeakers as two individuals of flesh and blood, making this a recording to return to. I won’t give away the Panizza set (Met, live 1939) or the Toscanini, nor the two Karajan sets (Decca and EMI), Solti’s first (also Decca) with a marvellous Desdemona in Margaret Price, will also stay in the collection, where Levine (RCA) with Domingo’s first Otello and Alain Lombard with Giacomini and again Price are mainstays and then there is Chung’s 1994 recording (DG) with Domingo’s third studio production. In other words, there is no lack of good Otellos and I could also add a DVD from Verona with Atlantov, Kiri Te Kanawa and Cappuccilli. If you are new to this opera you could choose any of these - possibly bar Panizza and Toscanini which are sonically not quite up to the mark - and feel satisfied. When you want to explore alternatives this Capuana set is more than worth its modest price. One really can’t have two many versions of Otello to choose from!
As usual Cetra’s original cover art has been retained, lending period flavour to the issue. The score is recorded complete - the only omission being the ballet music in act III, a loss I can live with.