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Verdi: Otello

4.0 out of 5 stars 20 customer reviews

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Audio CD, May 18, 2011
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

Verdi: Otello by James Levine

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This is Plácido Domingo's first recording of his signature role, and what he can't do with sheer vocal force, he accomplishes somewhat less resourcefully with vocal color, of which he has plenty. The main draw, though, is Renata Scotto's dramatically acute Desdemona, recorded a tad late (1978) in her vocal life but better than not at all. The villainous Iago is the vocally gleaming but unsubtle Sherrill Milnes. James Levine's conducting is a bit green, a bit bombastic, and propulsive in a one-dimensional way, though one must remember he was working with the National Philharmonic, a pick-up orchestra rather than a seasoned opera ensemble. --David Patrick Stearns

Track Listings

Disc: 1

  1. Una vela!
  2. Esultate!
  3. Fuoco di gioia! - James Levine
  4. Roderigo, beviam!
  5. Inaffia l'ugola!
  6. Capitano, v'attende
  7. Olà! Che avvien?
  8. Già nella notte - Renata Scotto
  9. Quando narravi - Renata Scotto
  10. Venga la morte! - Renata Scotto
  11. Non ti cruciar
  12. Credo in un Dio crudel (Iago's Credo)
  13. Eccola
  14. Ciò m'accora
  15. Dove guardi splendono
  16. D'un uom che geme
  17. Desdemona rea!
  18. Ora e per sempre addio
  19. Era la notte
  20. Sì, pel ciel

Disc: 2

  1. Introduction - James Levine
  2. La vedetta del porto
  3. Dio ti giocondi, o sposo - Renata Scotto
  4. Dio! Mi potevi scagliar
  5. Vieni, l'aula è deserta
  6. Questa è una ragna
  7. Come la ucciderò?
  8. Viva il Leon di San Marco!
  9. A terra! ... sì ... nel livido fango
  10. Era più calmo? - Renata Scotto
  11. Mia madre aveva una povera ancella (Widow Song) - Renata Scotto
  12. Ave Maria - Renata Scotto
  13. Chi è là? Otello? - Renata Scotto
  14. Calma come la tomba
  15. Niun mi tema - Plácido Domingo


Product Details

  • Performer: Renata Scotto, Plácido Domingo, Jean Kraft, Frank Little, Sherrill Milnes, et al.
  • Orchestra: National Philharmonic Orchestra
  • Conductor: James Levine
  • Composer: Giuseppe Verdi
  • Audio CD (May 18, 2011)
  • SPARS Code: ADD
  • Number of Discs: 2
  • Label: RCA Classics
  • Run Time: 66 minutes
  • ASIN: B000009NJ1
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #268,237 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on May 8, 2002
Format: Audio CD
Otello is arguably the greatest of all operas, but its three lead roles are extremely difficult and the role of the conductor is not easy either. This makes Otello one of the toughest operas to pull off and all of the available recordings have their share of problems. This James Levine recording is the best available because it has the fewest problems.
Let's start with the lead role. Domingo is in wonderfully youthful voice (he was still under 40 when the recording was made). He produces a glowing heroic tone and none of the vocal challenges of the role are beyond him. Whereas other tenors, such as Vickers and McCracken, can't handle the high note in the Second Act recitative with Iago and make an ugly sound as a result, Domingo has no problem with it. His naturally dark voice was perfectly suited to the role and he is almost certainly the best Otello on record. There is nothing wrong with his characterization on this recording either. His dramatic points of emphasis strike the listener as wholly appropriate and he doesn't ham up the two big solos as many other singers do. Perhaps he does not sound as tormented as Vickers, but there is no question which of the two does the better singing.
Renata Scotto's performance as Desdemona is wonderful. It is vocally slightly flawed, but it is intensely characterful. There is probably no other soprano who has so effectively conveyed Desdemona's anguish and fear. She works very effectively with Domingo and their account of the First Act love duet is very beautiful.
Sherrill Milnes is outstanding as Iago. His powerful voice is very well suited to the role and he had a great talent for playing evil characters - Iago being the most evil of all. Many critcize him for not being characterful, but the recording proves otherwise.
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Format: Audio CD
Placido Domingo does a terrific job as Otello. His voice is luscious, he has no trouble with the high notes, and his acting is very dramatic. Any criticism of his performance here is unfounded. And Sherrill Milnes does a great job as the evil, sneering Iago. It's true that Renata Scotto is a little past her prime here, but she still sounds pretty good; the Willow Song and Ave Maria are lovely.
The big problem with this recording is that the singers are under-miked and the orchestra is over-miked. You have to turn the sound way up to hear the singers, but when the orchestra plays it blasts you out of the room.
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Format: Audio CD
Opinions hugely differ on this Otello set and I am on the admirers' side. To sum up, this is a brutal and untamed performance both vocally and orchestrally. Every scene is treated explicitly. Some might miss the psychological layers other versions offer but it's this recording's very lack of complexity that attracts me to its sheer power. Don't be fooled by the obscurity of National Philharmonic - they are absolutely brilliant in dramatic moments with penetrating brass and stone-grinding lower strings.
I also own another of Domingo's three Otellos (Maazel's - the movie soundtrack). There he is more subtle (or intelligent) but not as gripping as in this Levine set. To make the matter worse, Maazel and the La Scala force sound less than committed in many places though they show absolute brilliance at a few climaxes.
For sheer power and propulsive-ness I score Levine's version very highly.
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Format: Audio CD
I am well aware that this review may upset many people. Many hold Domingo's final recording on DG as his best, and though it has its great qualities, it cannot compare with the sheer beauty of this one. I am also aware that many do not consider DOmingo the greatest Otello (as there are many other great ones), but while Del Monaco, Vickers, and Vinay have more vocal power than Domingo, his lyricism greatly exceeds theirs. One only needs to listen to love duet at the end of Act One and compare the subtlety beauty of Domingo's voice whereas Del Monaco stumbles with subtle singing. Domingo's Otello is not the fierce beast that Verdi (a racist) had asked from Tamagno. Otello is ultimately a man that lives, thinks, feels. And that is why I love Domingo's Otello over the others. He embodies a human being without ever taking away his dignity. Otello is in fact a tragic hero at the end and not a monster who's stupidity and cruelty has lost the audience's dignity. It is true that Domingo may not sound like the most tormented of Otellos, but his is the most heroic and tragic.

In order for Otello's role to truly shine, there must be two great singers playing beside him and struggling to win him over. In this case, Milnes' Jago and Scotto's Desdemona come through in best way. Scotto's Desdemona is sung purely and wonderfully, giving us a true portrait of the angel that Verdi wrote. The concertante at the end of Act 3 is one of the most beautiful moments of this recording and probably the best recorded. Milnes' Jago is fiery and even comical. Nobody sings the Drinking Song better or the "Credo" with more conviction.

I am aware that many people feel that Levine's conducting is erratic and purposeless, but I beg to differ.
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