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Verdi: Otello

3.8 out of 5 stars 5 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Desdemona in Verdi's Otello was a career role for soprano Renata Tebaldi, from her first operatic performance outside of Italy to her final appearance on the opera stage. Between those landmarks she performed the role nearly 100 times all over the world and made studio audio recordings that became reference recordings for the role. This 1962 production with the Deutsche Oper Berlin and Giuseppe Patane was planned as a media event from the outset and blessedly captures a consummate artist in a signature role at the peak of her gifts.

Special Features

None.

Product Details

  • Format: Multiple Formats, Classical, Color, NTSC
  • Language: Italian
  • Subtitles: English, French, Italian, Spanish
  • Region: All Regions
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated:
    NR
    Not Rated
  • Studio: Arthaus
  • DVD Release Date: August 28, 2012
  • Run Time: 155 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B008DWG0HO
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #152,727 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)

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The qualities of Tebaldi's Desdemona are quite familiar to collectors which makes it essential that we can now see as well as hear her. Hans Beirer is largely forgotten today but makes a fine, well-sung Otello. He may not have the volume of Vickers or Domingo but his performance is better than either of those. Dooley's Iago is another fine artist who left all too few recordings. He sings and acts well, without the vocal crooning or set chewing of, say, Milnes. Patane's conducting is strong and flows nicely, far preferable to von Karajan's attempt at perfection or the "hurry-for-the-big-bits" styles of Levine or Solti. Of course, the television technology of 1962 doesn't hold up to today's but must be overlooked to enjoy a fine performance that can't be matched today.
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This is a recording of the historic occasion in 1962 when the Deutsche Opera Berlin changed their programming to persuade Renata Tebaldi to sing in an opera for them. "Otello" wasn't even in their repertoire at the time, but they were desperate to present the great diva in a fully-staged opera, and this is the one she chose.

The video is clear and the sound vintage - but I have to say that the performance in general is pretty uninspiring and there are numerous places where conductor and stage part company. Hans Beirer is a reasonable Otello (he ain't no Vickers or Domingo), but his intonation is rather suspect at times. William Dooley has a fine baritone sound, but not much character, and the other soloists are distinctly average. But the whole point of this release is so that we can see as well as hear the magnificent Renata Tebaldi in one of her greatest parts. And she is truly wonderful!! OK! - so the voice wasn't at it's absolute freshest in 1962, and vocal problems (that would result in her withdrawing from the stage for a year to retrain) were on the horizon, but in this performance she sings with such beautiful tone and her stage persona is so sincere - womanly and graceful. She is also completely within the role at every stage of the proceedings.

Yes! - of course I wish this had been recorded a few years earlier when the voice was undoubtedly the most beautiful spinto voice in the world - but I'm just so glad to have this video as a memento of a great artist.
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This Otello is badly unbalanced by Hans Beirer in the title role. He has the volume but lacks stature musically and
in terms of his acting. William Dooley came back to the U.S. later and sang Wagner roles with some distinction. But here he is barely acceptable as Iago.

Renata Tebaldi appears as a guest Desdemona in this German production. She radiates beauty and depth of voice as Desdemona. Her restraint and phrasing are aristocratic and she towers above the others musically. Her Ave Maria and Willow Song stand as the last word in Verdi mystery. Who is this beauty in the rough outpost of the Venetian Empire? Patane had a long career as a conductor of the second rank.
But RenataTebaldi is a remarkable star, unattainable, deeply loving, the virgin who bewitched the world of opera for decades. This performance is one of her few available on DVD. Her simplicity and elegance are unmatched, truly historic. She is physically very beautiful, the perfect Desdemona. We are lucky indeed to have this document of her performance of her signature role, surrounded however by lesser artists.
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This is mostly a good experience, but with several problems, and hard to decide how many stars to give. I'll just spell out the main issues as I see them. First the good news.

1. Renata Tebaldi is wonderful. Don't hesitate to buy if you like Tebaldi. She is fine here, and she did so little on video.

2. The B&W picture is excellent thruout, and the mono sound. In fact, considering what the Metropolitan Opera was doing 15 and more years later, it is absolutely magnificent. I was just watching the 1978 Vickers/Scotto Met video a few days ago, and I am amazed if they could tape a live production in Berlin in 1962 and make it look this good, why couldn't they do it at the Met in 1978 as well? The Met video is so dark you can hardly see what's going on. This is not like that. This has a normal B&W picture as you remember from any TV show of the era.

3. The sets are a little on the spare side, but that's fine with me. It is neither abstracted, modernized, or minimalist. You get some steps, chairs, some curtains, arches, nothing that gets in the way. It is similar to the spare sets of the the Laurence Olivier movie (but not related, of course).

4. Most of the singers, except one that I shall get to, are competent, believable, and enjoyable. The huge chorus also, very well trained, one of the best opera choruses I have ever heard.

With all this going for it, what could possibly be negative?? Alas ...

1. The huge excellent chorus is singing everything in German, while the soloists are singing Italian.
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