Mesmerising performance from the voice of an angel
Otello has always been one of my favourite Verdis. Of his operas it is perhaps his most concise in terms of story, Don Carlo even with its inconclusive ending is a close second, and the music is just gorgeous. While not my favourite Otello, or quite up there as one of them, this Deutsch Oper production has a lot of good things. Sadly though I did have reservations about the title role performance of Hans Beirer. He has the heroism, intensity and increasing rage of the role just right. I just don't care for his voice, by all means it is a big voice as you'd expect Otellos to, but not very attractive. A lot of it sounded strained and lacking in warmth, maybe it would work in Wagner and Strauss, Beirer is an excellent Siegfried, Tannhauser and Herod, but it just sounded wrong to me here, not to mention that his Italian is very unidiomatic with his os and us sounding too closed for my tastes.
However, the staging is intense for the end of Act 3 and the Credo and poignant in Desdemona's two Act 4 arias and the final scene. The costumes and sets are opulent and true to period, and while the camera work is straightforward it is not uninteresting either. The orchestral playing is superb, sensitive for Ave Maria and sending up a storm in the Oath duet Si Pel Ciel. Giuseppe Patane's conducting is refined and is never broad or plodding, Ave Maria especially is beautifully measured and quite nuanced. William Dooley is an effective Iago, maybe not the most evil I've seen(for me that's between Piero Cappuccilli and Sherrill Milnes) but his jealousy and false confidante sides to this devil-in-disguise sort of role is very convincing, he sings with a strong bass baritone with no signs of over-tension in the high notes and his Credo is suitably chilling. The supporting cast are strong. The best asset of this Otello though is the mesmerising performance of Renata Tebaldi.
Seeing and hearing her performance here, you just know that Toscanini dubbing her as having the voice of an angel was entirely justified. For me, Tebaldi is now the best Desdemona I've seen and this is perhaps her best performance on DVD too. In this role she is the epitome of nobility and pathos, qualities you also find in her Leonora, Maddalena Di Coigny and Adriana Lecouvreur. Her singing is still beautiful, so much so that I could listen to her all day if I wanted to. The vocal colours are so varied and sublime, maintaining the shimmering beauty that Tebaldi was famous for, her musicality and phrasing are enough to evoke tears- I was in floods after her Ave Maria- and you can absolutely tell that that she feels and means every word. I know I dedicated a whole paragraph to her, but that just goes to show how much she moved me.
All in all, a solid Otello that could have been even better with a stronger tenor(Beirer is not as bad as some of the Youtube comments say, but to me he was not ideally suited to this role), but is absolutely worth the look for Tebaldi's performance alone. 8/10 Bethany Cox
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