Poplavskaya, Di Castri; Antonenko, Álvarez, Costello, Petrenko; Konzertvereinigung Wiener Staatsopernchor, Wiener Philharmoniker, Muti. Production: S. Langridge. Unitel Classica 725008 "Tutto Verdi" 25, 143 mins. (opera), 10 mins. (bonus), subtitled
With this release, the "Tutto Verdi" bicentennial collection has broken with its original concept to videotape productions "in and around Parma." Yet this imported Otello — from the 2008 Salzburg Festival — is worth the breach.
While Riccardo Muti has recorded the opera twice in the past with some legendary singers, the more mortal participants here often seem elevated by his intense focus on fundamentals and the awesome dynamism of his reading.
The performance does not leave you marveling at radiant details or the discovery of new subtleties in the score; even Muti's adoption of Verdi's 1894 revision of the Act III ensemble can easily pass unnoticed. This is power Verdi, with a vocal solidity surprising by current standards; the tragedy unfolds more as an unleashing of blind, cosmic forces than by emphasizing human manipulation or contrivance. Both musically and in Stephen Langridge's dynamic, busy staging, the focal point is Iago.
Carlos Álvarez's villain, in a menacing "Credo," appears horrified and even frightened by his own nihilism, as if he had only now discovered it; there is no gloating in his Act III closeups. Muti's pacing of Iago's scenes is steady but propulsive, barely using reflective pauses or emphatic diminuendos, and the baritone wields his blackened timbre with steady assurance.
The direction keeps the sturdy, inelegant villain present, an eavesdropper or voyeur when not participating in a scene; the baritone becomes almost a stage manager, arranging the set, the stage curtain and other characters.
The title role is a little diminished as a result; Aleksandrs Antonenko's Otello gives the game away from the start, as if ripe for the plucking, and he seems to coast between peaks. The director inexplicably undercuts his entrance for the "Exsultate," for a loss of heroism and autonomy. Vocally, while occasionally sounding frayed in softer passages, including the moments of tragic introspection, the tenor achieves grandeur in the emotional storms.
Soprano Marina Poplavskaya, if less radiant than remembered from some of her Met appearances, here demonstrates power to support her vibrant ensemble work and to give full measure to Desdemona's increasing terrors. Her final act is masterfully affecting.
Whereas the sets have the geographically vague, industrially drab look that rules most opera stages today, the costumes seem handed down from an earlier generation's Otello. A video screen and small raised platform seem underutilized — except when Iago contemptuously dismantles the latter just before his "Ecco il leone." The video direction by Peter Schönhofer overuses closeups, especially disorienting the viewer in the barely lighted murder scene; the camera focuses long and hard on the handkerchief, and also on Otello's boots during his final entrance accompanied by the bass violins.
DAVID J. BAKER
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