Top critical review
More music than drama
31 October 2013
I've admired the conducting of Myung-Whun Chung in many broadcasts and recordings, so I was surprised to be disappointed by what happens here. No complaints about the cast - I particularly enjoyed Ramon Vargas as Cassio, and Leiferkus is a slinkily sinister Iago, even if one notices the absence of a truly dark voice within the cast. As always with this conductor everything is sensitively balanced, moulded, phrased - but on this occasion to excess. There is a lack of excitement or, more specifically, drama. The acoustics of the Bastille Opera may be partly responsible for the lack of weight and heft from the brass (I'm not talking about just volume), but the string playing is altogether too safe and sweet and unvaried. The bows are always midway between bridge and fingerboard, the vibrato is consistently even, and only the dynamics change. There's nothing risky, nothing special about the sound, ever. So in 'Ora e per sempre addio', the effect is smooth and pleasant when it should be bleak and broken, abetted by Chung's blandly flowing tempo. In the Act IV Willow Song, the tierce de picardie at the word 'morir', which can impart an unexpected and terrible beauty, goes for nothing, and the hollowness of the closing chords before Otello's entrance is warmed and plumped up as if it is an embarrassment to the conductor.
I suppose this is better than constant underlining of detail at the expense of the musical line... but while I remained patient for the first two acts, Act III with all its emotion and action fell seriously short of expectation. The recording quality is, like the conductor's interpretation, smooth and secure.