Verdi's Otello is the finest tragic opera ever written. The genial poet Boito wrote a beautifully compressed libretto that inspired Verdi to compose intensely dramatic, dynamic and complex music for great arias, duets and choral singing. Otello' s triumph over the Turks "Esultate!", the sweet and ethereal duet between Otello and his bride Desdemona "Già nella notte densa", Jago's cynical view on life "Credo in un Dio crudel", the revengeful oath-taking duet "Sì, pel Ciel marmoreo giuro!", Otello's regret for lost happiness "Dio, mi potevi scagliare", the andante then frenetic pezzo concertato of acclaims "Viva! Evviva!" (Venetian dignitaries, heralds, soldiers, Ladies and Gentlemen) ingrained with brooding soliloquies and utterances "...Emilia, una gran nube turba il senno d"Otello..." (Lodovico, Otello, Desdemona, Emilia, Jago), Desdemona's soulful prayer "Ave Maria", Otello's dishevelled suicide "Niun mi tema" and last heroic whisper "un altro bacio", the opera ending with two soft but solemn orchestral bars.
On 5 February 1887 at the Teatro alla Scala, Milano, Verdi staged the world premiere of Otello after 16 years of silence. During that period, he reflected for a long time on his experience and the musical evolution of opera. He felt he had to conceive successfully something new to stay abreast of times. Otello was born. Boito became a decisive collaborator. He wrote the libretto "a struttura continua" which allowed the great master to break the old scheme of arias, duets, recitatives and develop a completely continuous discourse.
Jon Vickers - The great Canadian tenor was born in 1926 at Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. After studying under George Lampert in Toronto, he made his debut in 1954 as the Duke of Mantua (Rigoletto) with the Canadian Opera Company in Toronto. During an illustrious career spanning over 28 years, he sang a variety of roles excelling in Beethoven's Fidelio as Florestan, the Wagnerians Siegmund, Parsifal and Tristan, the Italians Canio and Otello, the French Don José and the English Peter Grimes, in most of the major theatres of the world. His debut as Otello dates back to 1970 during the Salzburg Festival where he sang the role for the ensuing two years.
In this 1974 rendition of Otello, one senses Vickers' mastery of the role and profound identification with the character throughout. When called upon to put on show the arduous vocality of Otello, some mediocrity creeps in. "Esultate" is not in the Lauri-Volpi or Del Monaco's glorious Italian tradition, the key words "Vien" and "un bacio" in the ethereal, amorous duet "Già nella notte densa" are whispered although some redemption is restored with a well sustained mezza voce in "...Venere splende", the ferocious and solemn oath-taking duet with Jago is a bit disappointing at the end, where "Dio vendicator" is a surprisingly short and colourless squillo, "Dio, mi potevi scagliare" is good in the piano monotone but colourless in the squillo "...Oh, gioia!" but "Niun mi tema" is quite a remarkable fraseggio. His Italian diction is fair.
Mirella Freni - She belongs to the cream of Italian sopranos who made singing history from Storchio, Pandolfini, Favero, Pampanini, Olivero and recently to Scotto. Her Mimì was the most celebrated, perhaps the greatest of all Puccini's frail seamstresses. For vocal, expressive and scenic qualities, she became household name at Salzburg as Zerlina, Susanna, Elisabetta di Valois, last but not least Desdemona in the repertoire of the Austrian city' supreme son, Herbert von Karajan. Freni never performed better with any other conductor than with Karajan.
In this 1974 edition of Otello, her Desdemona is cajoled, inspired, advised, even pushed by Karajan to use colours, refinements and sfumature to which she was not used. Her amorous canto in the love duet, the passionate, pure-hearted and exhilarating lament "A terra...si...nel livido fango..." prostrate on the floor of the castle hall of ceremonies in front of the stupefied Venetian dignitaries, the meditative, sad recollections in the Willow song and soulful prayer "Ave Maria" in her bed chamber are striking proof of an exceptional voice-orchestra fusion.
Peter Glossop - A distinguished English baritone born in Sheffield and an excellent interpreter of the Italian Romantic Opera at Covent Garden and the major theatres of the world. His repertoire included Rigoletto, Count di Luna, Scarpia, Simon Boccanegra, Guy de Montfort (I Vespri Siciliani) and Jago. He had voice for sale, warm, expressive accents and great acting ability. His Rigoletto in particular was a voice of decades gone by.
In this 1974 edition of Otello, his Jago is almost unmatched. His scenic presence is imposing, gestures and facial expressions, supported by a good mezza voce, weave a diabolical cynicism of nearly Tito Gobbi's dimensions while his "Credo in un Dio crudel" crowns him as the Mephistophelean villain so much aspired by Verdi, who found the monologue "most beautiful and wholly Shakespearean!"
Herbert von Karajan - A native of Salzburg, he was only nineteen when he became permanent conductor at the Opera of Ulm in 1927, of Aquisgraine from 1935 to 1942, took the place of the great Wilhelm Furtwangler as conductor of the Berliner Philharmoniker in 1954 and became the Salzburg Festival director in 1956. He conducted in Italy frequently by interpreting Wagner and Mozart but also the Italian masters' operas, including Lucia, Falstaff, Traviata, Boheme and Cavalleria rusticana. He interpreted Tosca in Berlin, Trovatore in Vienna and Don Carlos at Salzburg. He was admired for a vast symphonic and operatic repertoire, conducting authority, live, incisive and dramatic style, great plasticity and constant pursuit of sound, vocal and orchestral beauty.
In this 1974 edition of Otello, Karajan is the orchestra conductor, artistic and stage director. Known for his unsurpassable analytical ability, he leads the orchestra to a dismembering of each detail of the score with the best timbre possible. The tempi and sound of this Otello as interpreted and executed by Karajan are majestic, glorious, solemn, totally innovative and mesmerising.
The staging is outdoors and not on the theatre platform. It is confined, done exquisitely and gives the impression of a stage production despite that the act I tempest scene is real and shot on the screen. The picture quality is excellent. The sound is superb stereo. Beautifully illustrated, the booklet is in English, German and French, contains a synopsis of the opera, no libretto but a partition of each act into the salient arias, duets, ensembles each accompanied by a very informative sequence of the plot and corresponding DVD track number.