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VERDI: Otello

spacer Stoyanova; Antonenko, Gatell, C. Guelfi, E. Owens; Chicago Symphony Chorus and Orchestra, Muti. Libretto and translations. CSO Resound 901 1301 (2)

The Latest Word on Otello

Riccardo Muti leads the CSO in an exciting new recording of Verdi's penultimate masterpiece.

OtelloMutiCD

Riccardo Muti's Verdi recordings date back four decades. The great Neapolitan conductor has led two worthy DVD versions of Verdi's penultimate masterpiece — Domingo's 2001 Milanese farewell to the title role, with Frittoli and Nucci, and a 2008 Salzburg DVD with a then lesser-known triad — Aleksandrs Antonenko, Marina Poplavskaya and Carlos Álvarez. In musical terms, his latest word on the subject — this splendidly engineered live set documenting his April 2011 concert performances with the Chicago Symphony, also heard at New York's Carnegie Hall — trumps them both. The massive CSO Chorus  under Duain Wolfe is one major reason to acquire this set: they achieve terrific ensemble and, like the orchestral players, are dynamically responsive to Muti's every detailed wish. The issue of Muti's banning interpolated "traditional" high notes — which might color some listeners' preference in Trovatore or Traviata recordings — doesn't apply here. One potentially jarring textual variant concerns Muti's (habitual) use of Verdi's Paris revision for Act III's concertato, more concise than the full-out Milan version. Muti's reading doesn't linger here or in the love duet: sentiment  yields before inexorable tragic flow.

Antonenko and Barbara di Castri's fiery Emilia are the only holdovers from Muti's Salzburg endeavor. The clarion-voiced Latvian tenor, an increasingly important player on the international scene as well as on the Met stage, generally sounds terrific here  (if one doesn't expect "latinate" tone). Under Muti's tutelage, Antonenko has increased in delicacy and dynamic shading since the Salzburg filming, as well as in verbal point, though there's room for further development of nuance (particularly in "Dio mi potevi scagliar" ). That said, Antonenko is surely today's reigning exponent of the role. Nor can many better-vocalized Desdemonas exist currently than Krassimira Stoyanova's . It's almost a cliché about this Bulgarian artist — a star in Vienna, if as yet perhaps a "warmly welcomed leading soprano" at the Met — that her bel cantesque phrasing reflects the sensitive musicianship of a lifelong string player. (Technically and musically she is miles ahead of the glamorous Poplavskaya at Salzburg.) Though her singing is dramatically sensitive and extremely beautiful, Stoyanova's "juicy lyric" voice may ultimately lack the Mediterranean warmth of a Tebaldi or the pure radiance of a Margaret Price, two of the role's most winning recorded interpreters. Yet Stoyanova's outstanding performance here gives much pleasure.

Alas, Carlo Guelfi , once a substantive if not particularly individual Verdi baritone, shows a voice past its best as Iago — tired, gray of timbre and slightly wobbly. He delivers the text with Snidely Whiplash relish but is rarely convincing. The recorded legacy yields Iagos that are duller (Karajan's hastily summoned Aldo Protti) and less idiomatic (Furtwängler's Paul Schöffler and Barbirolli's Fischer-Dieskau), but next to his fresh-voiced colleagues, Guelfi's Ensign sounds provincial and over-routined. Juan Francisco Gatell  fares capably as a somewhat tight-sounding Cassio who might usefully have changed places with the unusually fine Roderigo, Michael Spyres. Eric Owens  offers an incisive Lodovico. This is an exciting entry in the highly competitive Otello discography. spacer 

DAVID SHENGOLD

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Current Issue: September 2014 — VOL. 79, NO. 3