Verdi: Otello Live, ’76/Domingo/Kleiber

Review by: Robert Levine

Artistic Quality: 8

Sound Quality: 7

Placido Domingo has recorded the role of Otello commercially three times (maybe four–who’s counting?), and each has something to offer. This performance, opening night at La Scala, 1976, when Domingo had been singing the role only slightly more than a year, is the most thrilling and most vocally secure. If it lacks the ultimate in insights and tragedy, it’s hardly empty: even at this stage of his career, Domingo could find the intelligence in each role he sang. His growing impatience with Iago in Act 2, his barely-controlled rage with Desdemona in Act 3, and his towering sadness in the final scene are all the work of a superb singing actor. In addition, the sheer vocal splendor is something to revel in; rarely thereafter were the high notes so brilliant.

Mirella Freni also has been Desdemona in the studio, and here she is just as sweet and sad, perhaps even more-so; her “Ave Maria” is gorgeously sung and deeply felt. Piero Cappuccilli’s Iago is a big, broadly-painted portrayal, and while he’s not as terrifyingly snide as Tito Gobbi, he’s scary enough to want to run from. He ignores most of Verdi’s dynamic markings, however, and that’s a minus. The rest of the cast is very fine.

Even without such a great cast, Carlos Kleiber’s conducting would put this set in the forefront of the competition. It’s a driven reading, with tension mounting little by little and no let-up. By the dreadful confrontation in Act 3 it’s almost unbearably taut–in a league with Toscanini’s rendition. The La Scala forces are somewhat less-disciplined than they ought to be, but that doesn’t cut into the set’s power. The sonics are a bit thumpy, but I’m carping: this is a remarkable performance.

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Domingo, Studer, Leiferkus/Chung (DG)


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