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4.0 out of 5 stars
4.0 out of 5 stars
Otello: A Film By Franco Zeffirelli [DVD]
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on 5 April 2008
From the rousing opening to the desperate and tender finale, this is perhaps Verdi's most highly charged, sweeping score: a complete masterpiece. It's a natural project for Zeffirelli, who has filmed both Shakespeare (Romeo & Juliet; Taming of the Shrew) and Opera (La traviata) successfully. And he pulls out all the stops here.

His storytelling is lucid, if sometimes overstressed, with dreams and flashbacks, but led by the music.

The only reason this isn't awarded five stars is the regettable decision to miss out the "Willow Song" in the final act. It's there in Shakespeare, also in Verdi's opera. It was recorded and issed on the soundtrack cd, exquisitely sung by the divine Ricciarelli. And yet Zeffirelli felt he knew better than all these people and removed it because it "held up the drama". Personally I see it as an essential "calm before the storm". With it, the film would have been perfection. Without it, it's still very good, but fatally decifient in that one respect.

Domingo is magnificent, the greatest Otello of his generation, no question, with Ricciarelli the most lovely and radiant Desdemona imaginable. Diaz at Iago is fine and the whole production is eye-poppingly sumptuous, as you would expect from Zeffirelli.

For the complete opera, try the live performances with Domingo - the Covent Garden production with te Kanewa is pretty good.
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on 3 August 2010
Starting with the negatives which knocked off 1 star: I don't bewail the 'Willow Song' as much as the cuts that deprived us of subtle the way Iago manipulated Othello from noble lover to jealous brute. Instead we had 2 random dance scenes inserted which wouldn't have been missed at all. But if you can surmount that, this will be a video you'll be watching over and over and certainly the one which might sway an anti-opera viewer to change his mind. Domingo's performance sparkled under excellent directing while Ricciarelli showed all the sweetness but none of the lazy diction that she brought into her rendition of Turandot in the DG von Karajan CD.

Justino Diaz as Iago was a show stopper with totally believable charm and villany and a voice that ensured that 'io credo' didn't drag or descend into melodrama. The glorious voice of Ezio Di Cesare combined with the stunning good looks and fine acting of Urbano Barberini lit up each scene where he/they appeared. In the final scene in particular, instead of being superfluous, he gave reality to the tragedy making you feel the waste of life. Iago's wife Emilia (Petra Malakova) became a real person rather than a 'prop' to the plot. The settings put you in Italy with many scenes being sung in historical buildings (probably immediately recognizable to travellers) which provided unique acoustics as well as atmosphere.
The action was (apart from those regrettable cuts/insertions) fast paced and realistic, the direction expert.
This is not a DVD to be omitted and, at its current price, can be bought alongside a more 'correct' version of the Opera but may be watched even more often
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on 26 March 2016
When it comes to a film of an opera I am no purist. I am open to new interpretations. However, I tend to approach film versions of opera with suspicion. And especially Zefferelli productions. He favours 'realism' or rather his luxurious, over the top version of realism. But opera is among the least realistic of media as more enterprising opera directors (Sellars, Carsen, the Alden brothers) accept.

With Zefferelli, therefore, we can expect lavish 'authenticity' to be the keynote. Much thought goes into the look of his productions and if you accept his basic approach then you will not be disappointed. It looks great, if conventional. I think he has no imagination, all in all, but copies renaissance paintings and dwells on beautiful imagery.

All this is fine. But musically the man is a barbarian. One expects and accepts cuts so out go the bonfire chorus, the great third act ensemble, and the Willow Song. I can accept these cuts, even as I regret them. What is totally unacceptable to anyone who knows the opera is the constant cutting of musical phrases. There is scarcely a scene which is left intact. Scarcely a minute of music goes by without a disfiguring cut. A few bars here, half a dozen there... I am not sure if this offends against Verdi's musical key schemes but it certainly offends in terms of musical cadences with a phrase bearing no relationship to what has gone before. It is profoundly unmusical. Music is sacrificed always for the picturesque in terms of visuals.

If you are new to opera... It might work. Though it will hardly convince you that opera can be the most intense of all dramatic and/or musical experiences. Better to get a DVD of a good stage production which has musical integrity. This version is simply appalling.
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on 2 March 2017
Powerful and moving
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on 20 September 2010
A very dramatic storm at sea opens this film, designed and Directed by Franco Zeffirelli. A victorious Otello salutes from the deck, and Desdemona appears on the ramparts of the habour relieved at his safe return. Jago observes menacingly from a window, full of hate for Otello because Cassio was appointed his Captain in preference to himself and vows revenge.
In this brilliant interpretation of Shakespeare and Verdi the drama and passion is maintained throughout with continuous action, no breaks, no applause. Lorin Maazel conducts the Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro Alla Scala,Milan, and mixing and editing was completed at the Abbey Road Studios, London, with a choice of subtitles.
Gianni Quarantia was artistic director, with wonderfull period costumes and jewellery by Anna Anni and Maurizio Milenotti of Rome. Tenor, Placido Domingo appears in very realistic and serious makeup as Otello the African taken from his home and risen to high office in the service of the Doge of Venice (Antonio Pierfrederick). Soprano, Katia Ricciarelli is beautiful and elegant as Desdemona, and sings a lovely "Ave Maria" shortly before she is strangled by Othello shrouded in black and red after renouncing his Christian Faith. The theme of Good versus Evil is indicated by a lot of the action taking place in the sinister vaults of the Castle, and the bare stone Chapel, and the impressive Armoury. Barritone, Justino Diaz performs Jago brilliantly as he'works his Poison'and laughs bitterly. Tenor, Urbano Barberini is well cast as the handsome vulnerable Cassio, Captain of the Guard who kills Montano in a drunken brawl staged by Jago amidst the cellebrations on the eve of victory, and whom Otello begins to see as a rival for the love of Desdemonia. It seems that Zeffirelli may cleverly have intimated that although enraptured by Otello, Desdemona held some attraction for Cassio which was reciprocated.
Emilia,(Petra Malakova) Desdemona's Maid reveals the treachery of Jago and Otello kills him with a pike; Cassio confesses Rodrigo (Sergio Nicolai)planted Desdemona's handkerchief in his room, and the Venetian delegation observe with disbelief, as Otello kills himself. This dramatic Verdi Opera contains also a dark humour, produced in 1986 by Menaheim Golan and Yoran Globus and is still a definitive version not to miss.
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on 15 June 2008
This film of Verdi's Otello has an awful lot going for it. Ably led by the masterful conducting of Lorin Maazel, the performance enshrines marvellous portrayals of Otello and Desdemona by Domingo and Ricciarelli who deliver performances which both vocally and on the screen often touch greatness. With the typically sumptuous sets of Zeffirelli, the film is often quite memorable (for example, at the unforgettable close of the first act).

Yet, as previous reviewers have pointed out, it is indeed a pity that the director chose to cut the Willow Song. That said, with a running time of 1hr 58Mins, Zeffirelli wields the axe on Verdi's score with disconcerting ease, with the consequence that the poetic beauty of Boito's libretto and the dramatic sweep of Verdi's music are all but destroyed. A snippet here, a few pages there, barely a scene passes without Zeffirelli's meddling; and it's not for dramatic continuity either, as ridiculously, the director insists upon resurrection the two ballet sequences into the action midway throught the first act and after the arrival of Venetian ambassador in Act III. The music, written for the Parisian premiere, where of course they had to have a ballet, is rarely performed today, mainly because it holds up the dramatic sweep of the action - as it does here.

Consequently, this is not a film for someone who loves Verdi's opera. As an introduction to Otello, Verdi or even the genre of opera itself, I cannot think of anything more seductive or appropriate: maybe this was the audience that Zeffirelli was targetting. However, if you are remotely familiar with Otello, I suspect that you will be disappointed with this film, more disconcerted by the director's habitual butchering of the score than seduced by the undeniably beautiful film sequences. No, if you insist upon a film of Otello, I would point the reader in the direction of Herbert von Karajan's early 1970's effort, undeniably flawed and with minor cuts of its own, but with even finer performances by Mirella Freni as Desdemona and Jon Vickers as Otello than here and accompanied by the incomparably grand Berlin PO, it is an altogether more faithful rendering of this wonderful opera and the more moving for that. However, if it is Domingo that you want, then the televised transmissions with Levine from The Met, Muti from La Scala and, to a slightly lesser extent, Solti at Covent Garden, are all superior to what's on offer here.

Overall, I'm glad to have seen this film, but I love Verdi's Otello too much to ever want to see Zeffirelli's Otello ever again.
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on 6 April 2010
This was a stunning movie at the time and still holds its own with the music, the settings and direction. The singing of Placido Domingo and Katia Riciarelli is just superb. Justino Diaz's interpretation of Iago is evil personified, wonderfully sung. Such a good movie (setting aside the impossible plot), but perhaps better viewed on the 'big screen'.
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on 21 June 2009
This is a splendid offering of Otello! Placido Domingo as always giving
his all holding the audience in the palm of his hand. Katia Ricciarelli is a touching,lovely Desdemona, who is entirely convincing in this role.
This may not be the purists Otello, but it holds its own with any other offering as far as I am concerned.
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on 27 February 2012
This does not work for me at all The cinematogrophy makes the opera story and music subservient. The singing and singers are passable but do not have the immediacy of a stage performance. Shadowy lurking by Iago takes away the passoin of his evil plotting. I have just consigned my copy to the charity box. Try Domingo, Fleming and Morris in the Met 1996 version, or any other !
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on 18 January 2008
Apart from the excellent performances by Domingo,Ricciarelli & Diaz the sound effects must make this one of the most dramatic operas ever put on film.
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