Verdi – Otello / Domingo, Te Kanawa / ROH 1992 (1)

It’s probably a good thing that I am writing this at home and not at my office, because my copy of Shakespeare’s tragedies is at my office, and thus I cannot indulge my impulse to look the important bits up in the original text and then complain about the libretto of the opera. Besides, what you get with this DVD is no-options English subtitles – a translation of an adaptation. So it’s probably best not to may much attention to the words in this one. (Cassio at one point has to sing “I vibrate like a harmonious lute” which may be less cringeworthy in Italian than it is in English – I am not sure.) And in general, adaptations and originals are best dealt with separately.

I haven’t listened to a great big Verdi opera in a while, and I enjoyed listening to this. The production itself is not going to raise any eyebrows. Sometimes I wonder if the best way to categorize opera productions might be to divide them into productions that try to forget that the stage is a stage and make it look real, and productions that acknowledge that the stage is a stage and embrace it (Regie would fall into the latter category, but so would some productions that I would not call Regie). This Otello is definitely in the former category. Here they bring the big guns – literally, in the first scene! – in terms of staging. There are columns and guns and balconies and chairs and dresses and other sixteenth-century looking things. The handkerchief has strawberries embroidered on it, just like in the play, although if you were sitting up in the cheap seats they might be clown faces or rhododendrons for all it would be visible.

As I said, I hadn’t listened to a big Verdi opera in a while, and it’s funny how a little break from a composer can bring out all the things that are characteristic of that composer’s music. I kept thinking of Don Carlos while I was listening to this, not because Verdi rehashes like Handel or anything like that (‘Rehash it like Handel!’ Sort of like ‘Bend it like Beckham’ but I suspect they would be very different films – although I rather like the idea of a plucky young composer who starts out composing in the park with friends and ends up with a scholarship to the music department at UCLA), but because operas by the same composer tend to have a kind of family resemblance. Here you get some of the typical Verdi things, e.g. lovely orchestral introductions with solo instruments, and in Act II an ‘everyone’s interior monologue is on the outside’ quartet that reminded me of the Elizabeth/Eboli/Posa/Philip one in Carlos.

And it’s very well executed. Sergei Leiferkus as Iago has a voice with an edge to it that I don’t really enjoy. It seemed now and then to be more edge than substance, but he has some nice moments, e.g. in the duet with Otello (Domingo) in Act II. Also, depending on the angle, he sometimes has this bizarre resemblance to David Ogden Stiers. Depending on whether you have fond memories of MASH or not I can see this being either a plus or a minus.

But Lieferkus is not the person whose face is on the front of the box.

(Next section here.)

2 thoughts on “Verdi – Otello / Domingo, Te Kanawa / ROH 1992 (1)

  1. I’m sure Otello could take a Regie treatment The lemur and I once roughed out a staging for the Shakespeare play set in the US embassy in Saigon during the last days. Maybe the Birmingham folks could repurpose their Mittwoch aus Licht helicopters? Except, of course, they have already done a Regie Otello in a disused warehouse!


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