Customer Reviews: Verdi - Otello / Domingo, Fleming, Morris, Croft, Levine, Moshinsky, Metropolitan Opera
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on April 15, 2004
I've seen Domingo perform Otello live about 24 times including being in the audience the night this was filmed as well as opening night. This was the most magical night in all my years of going to opera. The electric energy flying around the stage between the principals and the audience was almost unbearable. While waiting in line to see Renee backstage, the prompter (she has been with the Met some 40 years) asked if we had seen the opening night performance and we answered in the affirmative and she said "Well, I think tonight was better, in fact, I think it is the best performance of Otello I've ever seen!" And, I figure she's seen a few including those of Domingo. His acting in this performance is superb! He is Otello! James Morris was manipulative, evil and charming at the same time. Renee was a wonder! In fact the reviewer at the time for the L. A. Times said it should have been called "Desdemona" so enchanted with her performance was he. She had just given birth to her second daughter 3 weeks earlier and apologized to us for greeting us in her dressing room sitting down! After she falls on the floor, sings on the floor, runs and puts her entire heart and soul into her performance! The lady was forgiven! Domingo was in an extremely good mood after an opera that usually totally exhausts him! He knew that this was a very special performance. Thank you Met for broadcasting this as I watch it frequently and my tape is almost worn out! I've been waiting for this opera to be released as one of the most outstanding productions and casts ever of my favorite opera and now they have done it! If you can only buy one DVD this year, make it this one! Also, it's history, as you'll never see him again, or anyone else, I wager, that can come close to capturing the character and singing it as well as he does. This is opera magic!!!
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on April 16, 2004
This DVD is a new release of a video Otello starring Placido Domingo in the title role. On DVD, there are already at least 3 of his Otellos, but this one surpasses them all.
Domingo is outstanding, a bit better than in the Covent Garden production. He is in great voice, singing and acting magnificiently. There are some few strained passages ("vil cortigiana", "venere splende") but somehow they come out exciting as well.
Morris and Fleming are of equal greatness. Morris has played an evil, manipulant Iago in his voice, and Fleming as Desdemona is the best I have ever heard.
Levine as conductor is great as well. His job must have been "easier" with this incredible cast.
The overall "movie impression" is worth of a great Hollywood piece of art. Not only is the singing outstanding but the acting of all the cast is incredible. I have never seen that before in any other opera DVD. When Otello slaps Desdemona you would actually jump of your seat as I've never seen such a realistic scene. Otello's fainting in the 3d act couldn't be more realistic. This list is long and encompasses the "Esultate", the act1 love scene, "Ora e per sempre"....and all the great ones.
At the end of the performance, you couldn't but join your screaming and cheers to those of the Met crowd.
Finally, a lot still argue about Domingo in the title role, and compare him to Vickers and Del Monaco. While everyone has his own opinion on the subject, let's be objective for a second:
Del Monaco's DVD in black and White with lips problem cannot compare to this good DVD production. Vicker's with Karajan has cuts, awful overall acting, and again lips problem, even though performance is amazing.
This is the BEST AVAILABLE OTELLO DVD (to date, I have said that same sentence when reviewing Covent Garden's.)
I highly Recommend it!
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on November 1, 2004
I first saw and heard Placido Domingo sing this role in the late seventies and early eighties, when the role was new to him. His interpretation then was that of a man in his early forties (where I am now), consumed by erotic fire and passion, and by anger at the racism and hypocrisies of the society in which he had risen, all of these emotions came together in his overwhelming and obsessive love for Desdemona.

Renata Scotto and Kiri Tekanawa both sang sensitive early interpretations of this misunderstood character, Desdemona, but Rene Fleming (though she is not a natural Verdi soprano) is simply unsurpassed in the delicacy and fragility of her phrasing, in her understanding of her character's love for this troubled man -- a love which makes her vulnerable and yet gives her strength.

With the passage of the years, Domingo's portrayal has become more sensitive and lyrical. The vocal heroics may not be what they were, though they still are in this late performance, but the infinite resignation and pathos of the final "Niun Mi Tema," would have been utterly impossible for the younger tenor.

The sense of tragedy and loss conveyed in this performance defies description or summary: it has to be experienced to be believed. It ensures Domingo's place as perhaps THE greatest "Otello" of the twentieth century. He joins the ranks of his heros -- Ramon Vinay, Giovani Martinelli and Mario Del Monaco in performing this greatest of all dramatic Operatic roles.

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on May 4, 2006
I've seen three DVD's featuring Placido Domingo in the title role: 1992 (Covent Garden), 1995 (The Met), and 2001 (La Scala). They are all high quality and worth owning but, in my opinion, this Met production has the best Desdemona (Renee Fleming), the best Iago (James Morris), and a stunning performance by Placido Domingo.

Some comparisons. Domingo's voice is clearest and most effortless in the Covent Garden production. But his understanding of the role deepens dramatically between 1992 and 1995. By 2001, he embodies Otello, but his voice is not as full-bodied and is strained in places. His overall best performance is in this 1995 production. This conclusion is not just a compromise between when he's youngest in voice (1992) and most experienced in acting (2001). In Acts III and IV of The Met production, it feels as if Domingo is no longer performing; he becomes Otello. Words are inadequate to describe him here; it simply has to be experienced. His work in Otello's Act III soliloquy, the brief "Dio! Mi potevi," is one of the finest two minutes I've seen in opera. And he is simply spellbinding in Act IV, as he crawls dying toward Desdemona, crying out for a kiss while the "kiss theme" from their Act I duet plays.

The three Desdemona's are Kiri Te Kanawa (1992 Covent Garden), Renee Fleming (1995 The Met), and Barbara Frittoli (2001 La Scala). All excel in different ways. Desdemona is a challenge to play. It's hard to convince an audience that she would so submissively accept the unjust fate she knows is about to befall her. Perhaps her love for Otello is so strong, she believes it will eventually bring him to his senses. Perhaps she's in a steadily increasing state of shock over his irrational behavior, shock that prevents her from acting. Perhaps she sees no choice but to accept whatever consequence follows from her bold move of having left her homeland to follow the Moor. These are but three possible approaches to the role.

For purity of voice and lyrical quality, Te Kanawa (Covent Garden) is unsurpassed, but her acting is weak. Some might call her portrayal of Desdemona restrained; I find it too wooden. But it's worth seeing Te Kanawa to hear the purity of her voice, especially in Act IV's "Ave Maria" prayer. Frittoli (La Scala) has a beautiful dark and dusky voice, and her portrayal of Desdemona as young and naive is moving.

But Fleming's Met performance surpasses the other two. Her voice is more expressive and she's a better actress. In Otello and Desdemona's Act I duet, "Gia nella notte densa," I can hardly breathe when Fleming and Domingo get to the kiss. The tenderness between them is palpable. In their duet and her "first tears" solo at the beginning of Act III, Fleming's combination of incomprehension, pain, and fear is heartrending. In Act IV, Fleming draws us to her sadly but quietly in the Willow Song only to stun us with her cry of terror at the end: "Ah! Emilia addio, Emilia, addio." I've read that this one short cry must communicate all the passion of an entire song. That's a tall order and, in my opinion, only Fleming pulls it off.

Frittoli (La Scala) plays Desdemona as in an increasing state of shock. It's believable and effective, but Fleming's performance is deeper because it's multi-layered. To flesh out the character, I think Fleming incorporates all three of the approaches I described above, making Desdemona a more complex woman.

A performer can take several approaches to Iago. There is no subtlety in Sergei Leiferkus' approach (Covent Garden). He exudes slimy evil intent, looking crazed at times. I think there's also a sexual component to his characterization (whether aimed at Desdemona or Otello, I couldn't say). Leo Nucci (La Scala) takes a more traditional approach to Iago, playing him as a nasty schemer. But once again, I prefer The Met production's James Morris. His Iago is the most frightening to me because he's seemingly so personable around Otello. His smile and his smooth baritone voice run chills down my spine.

I prefer The Met DVD over the others, but you can't go wrong with any of the three. Bottom line, I recommend you don't miss Domingo as Otello in this powerful Verdi opera.
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on September 23, 1999
"...The Willow Song and Ave Maria provided one of those episodes of transcendental rapture which operagoers remember all their lives, singer, conductor, players and audience caught together in an enchanted spell..." Andrew Porter's review of Kiri Te Kanawa's brilliant performance as Otello's wife.
A perfect production - Placido Domingo demonstrates why he is the best tenor in the world, with a completely commanding performance - catching the balance of Otello's character perfectly.
Russian Sergei Lefeirkus is a vocally good Iago, but lacks a bit of the real wickedness of a brilliant Iago...Cassio is good and the rest of the cast, Emilia (though wobbly at times) included, are wonderful. Kiri Te Kanawa is a stand out performer, a magical Desdemona, with mystery & beauty - acting out the desperation of an unhappy wife to perfection. Domingo and Te Kanawa have real chemistry, better than any operatic 'couple' performing on the world's stages, and the love scene is extremely passionate and vocally beautiful. The final scene moved me to tears...Solti's orchestration is great, though perhaps a little loud sometimes?!
Anything negative aside, it's as perfect an Otello as you will ever find. Buy it!
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on July 13, 2010
I have a lot of respect for the reviewer who has seen Domingo singing this role live dozens of times. Having said that, I admit that no DVD compares to a live performance, and to me this DVD (when compared to the version of Domingo/Frittoli/Muti/La Scala) failed to capture a lot of the overwhelming sound effects such as that of the chorus singing full blast or the low register rumblings in the initial scene "Una vela". I don't know if it's a balance problem in the film making, editing or Levine's own judgment. The Met orchestra itself sounds great, but I would recommend buying the version with Muti and La Scala, instead. There the brass can get out of tune sometimes, but Muti's tempi are more convincing and the sound of the DVD is a lot richer and more complete. Finally, I'm only a violinist, but to me Frittoli is also better than Te Kanawa or Fleming in this role. Just my 2 cents.
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on April 17, 2004
I have just finished watching this stunning performance of Otello. The performance is so incredible that I feel absolutely compelled to write this review.
The biggest glory of this set is the absolutely stunning portrayal of the moor Otello by Placido Domingo. I've never been a huge Domingo fan (although I certainly respect him greatly). I tend to think that he has his fingers in too many pies. But this performance has changed my view completely. Domingo is not only vocally in superb form, his intense dramatic portrayal is electrifying! He loses all self-consciousness on stage and becomes Otello - there is no hint that he even thinks he is singing in an opera, he is so absolutely consumed by the role. Every expression on his face is under his absolute control. This is one of the most gripping portrayal of an operatic character I've ever seen. In this performance, Domingo absolutely blasts everyone else away - Fleming, Morris, Croft....
The second glory of this set is the absolutely ravishing soprano of Renee Fleming. Renee Fleming is also very much into her character. It is somewhat cruel to juxtapose Fleming's Desdemona with Domingo's towering Otello. Because you sense that Fleming's characterization is weaker than Domingo's. But that doesn't mean that Fleming cannot act - just that Domingo is simply too good in this role. In any case, Fleming's dramatic portrayal is also very intense - you feel and see her emotions and sorrow throughout the opera. She is a picture of chaste innocence in Act 1. In Act 2, her shock and grief are palpable. In Act 3, she gives Desdemona a somewhat stronger character than usual when Desdemona denies any marital infidelity. Her sorrow is heart-rending when Domingo accuses her of infidelity and finally, curses her at the end of Act 3. In Act 4, her Willow Song and prayer tugs at your heart strings. To top it all, Fleming's voice is absolutely ravishing. In some of her recent recordings, she has adopted some mannerisms. NOT SO DOWN HERE. She sings beautifully, and her singing projects her emotions but she does not overdo things nor does she engage in some of the somewhat irritating mannerisms of late.
James Morris is an excellent Iago. He acts well but certainly falls a little short of Fleming's or Domingo's intensity. Nevertheless, he is vocally excellent.
I like Cassio here. Not only is he really handsome, he is very much into his character and he is vocally in superb form.
The set, by Elijah Moshinsky, captures the Shakespearen atmosphere superbly. It is the exact same set (with very minor changes) as the 1992 Convent Garden Otello with Solti, Domingo, Kanawa and Serkus. It is a fantastic set.
James Levine's conducting is also superb. The tension never slacks and the drama keeps flowing.
An exceptionally fantastic production from the Metropolitan opera.
I've been following the recent Met releases - Fidelio with Karita Mattila and Ben Heppner, Tristan and Isolde with Jane Eaglen and Ben Heppner. And now this Otello with Domingo and Fleming. The Metropolitan Opera has really surpassed itself with all these 3 releases. They are all the best I've ever seen.
The 1998 production of Samson Et Dalila with Domingo & Olga Borodina ia scheduled for release in June 2004. I'm looking forward to it.
Also, the Met has actually videotaped Karita Mattila's stunning 2004 Salome. Because of lack of funding, it is stil waiting to be broadcast. But why wait? Every opera fan should WRITE IN TO THE MET and ASK THEM TO RELEASE IT IMMEDIATELY.
Go to the Met Website and find their contact email, and WRITE IN AT ONCE to ask them to release this incredible 2004 Salome.
In addition, The Met has videotaped the 2003 Ariadne Auf Naxos (Deborah Voigt) and the 2001 Wozzeck - all awaiting telecast due to lack of funding. Write in to tell them we want these on DVD. Show them our support.
Yes, don't even think about not buying this DVD!! In fact don't even think about not buying the Met 2001 Fidelio or Met 1999 Tristan and Isolde. These are already classics!!!
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on September 13, 2004
From all of Domingo's recorded live performances of Otello, this 1996 opening night from the Met is the one that I like the most. It is amazing to hear and see, more than 21 years after his debut in this role, such a well preserved voice, such a complete actor, and such a fantastic rendition of the most difficult tenor role from Verdi's opera. There are no transpositions, and there is only one brief moment at the end of Act 2, where his voice suddenly sounds tired, but this is the only such moment from the entire duration of the magnificent rendition of the score. Fleming, in one of her first Desdemona, sings very beautifully, and with a lot of passion, her opulent voice admirably suited to the role. Morris is trying to cope with notes lying to high for his stentorian bass-baritone, which lacks in some instances the suavity and vocal inflections one would expect, (all the high A-s were also omitted from the drinking song).The other roles are nicely sung, and the chorus and orchestra provide a solid support for the principals under the baton of Levine.
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on August 1, 2005
The grandeur of Verdi's late operas cannot be adequately captured on a video screen. To some extent the closeups compensate for what one loses of the spatial reality of the theater. In this DVD from the MET the cast is uniformly fine. All the cast members are musically assured so that they are free to act their roles to the hilt. They truly "live" their roles.

Domingo is superb as the moor. Fleming, captured before her more mannered recent work, is luscious to hear and to see. Morris is less convincing, not because he doesn't act or sing well but because he simply doesn't look very malevolent...this is where the closeups undercut the theaterical world of illusion.

The opportunity to see this great work live in an opera house doesn't happen too often and its unlikely that one could run into as strong a cast as appears in this performance. We must be grateful that the opera is available to us in this form.
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on October 25, 2004
This 1996 Otello, live from the Metropolitan Opera, was my very first Otello. It is one of my favorite operas and this production is still among my favorites.

Domingo gives a great performance. His moor sounds a little nasal in the Esultate, but settles back into real spendor during the Gia La notte duet. Clearly his 2 decades as the moor have made him the finest actor of the part in anyones memory. the second act is a real challange for his

56 year old pipes, and he pinches slighly, seeming highly stressed going into the Si Per Ciel. this, however, can be forgive, and almost adds to the desperation of the Drama. Domingo is splendid in the 3rd act, delivering his usual brilliance. His 1992 Otello, with Dame kiri, shows his voice under better control.

James Morris, is pushing his Fach a bit for Jago. Not a Verdian baritone, Mr Morris is more of a Wagnerian. This causes a few unusual vocal occurances. It means, to his credit, that his low notes are the firmest of all Jagos in my memory. The problem is that there is a bit of strain on the top. He also concedes to the High A's in the first act Drinking Song. Nevertheless he is a wonderful Jago. His Jago is not the bruttish monster that some, Like Justino Diaz or Milnes, he is the Machiavellian schemer, much like the Jago of Nucci. his is a evil and intelligent Jago... very compelling.

Desdemona is played by Renee Fleming, and played very very well. She is an excellent Desdemona.. perhaps more Gentle and sypathetic than Kiri TeKanawa. Her Pianissimo, and her use of chest is appropriate. She was beutiful foil for Domingo. (Incidently she looked beautiful in her lavish costumes)

James Levine gets major credit for a briskly paced Otello (Most likely to accomadate the greatful singers Domingo and morris) He leads the Met orchestra with his usual competence, and I am greatful for his wonderful, and unpretentious, reading.
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