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Verdi Otello

Otello – Placido Domingo
Desdemona – Barbara Frittoli
Iago – Leo Nucci

Orchestra of La Scala, Milan/Riccardo Muti
Sets Ezio Frigerio
Costumes Franca Squarciapino
Director Graham Vick

TDK DV-OPOTEL [16:9 TT:140 mins]

This performance of Otello filmed at the La Scala Theatre was seen on TV before the start of a three year renovation project. It is highly satisfying, with only a few caveats.

Placido Domingo, famous as Otello at La Scala in 1976, now no longer young, is in fine voice and encompasses all aspects of the part vocally and dramatically. For the full contemporaneous flavour of the event, see http://www.tenorissimo.com/domingo/Art/corr120801.htm .

Barbara Frittoli is exceptional in holding attention for her every gesture and phrase; when on stage she was fully Domingo's equal. Leo Nucci, one of my favourite Verdi baritones, gains from being watched at close quarters on the small screen. He never exaggerates and we are privy to his machinations, everyone else puppets in his hands. His domination over his knowing but cowed wife is shown as crucial to the tragic outcome; this was before the age of the 'whistle-blower'!

The sets and costumes are exceptionally brilliant and make a crucial contribution to an Otello which will linger long in the memory. Graham Vick's direction is persuasive, especially in the first two acts, slightly less so towards the end for me. I suspect that the split level stage (Otello pops down a trapdoor to overhear Cassio and Iago from below) and Desdemona's vast, bare room, with a fire in the middle (no chimney) and an unlikely bed to sleep in or be murdered, may have worked better in the theatre?

But overall it is Muti's sure grasp of the score in detail, and in its intensity, which carries the DVD to great heights, and the orchestra is given full value with well judged balance. I was particularly taken by the pointed humour of some scenes which anticipated the wit of Verdi's Falstaff score, these heightening the underlying horror being contrived by Iago.

A comment about sub-titles; those here are often inept and slovenly. And they share a prevailing irritation encountered with opera DVDs, unnecessary repetition of the same words again and again throughout a track. Once established, and taken in a couple of times, we should be left with the music and the singers until the next significant piece of text arrives.

But no question, this is a necessary Otello for any collection, one to go on your shelf next to the great historic Monaco/Enriquez version of 1958 (http://theoperacritic.com/Pages/Reviews/V2PGWDVDOtello.htm)


© Peter Grahame Woolf