Londi, Di Stasio; Miranda Ferraro, Giorgetti, Gobbi, Maddalena; Orchestra & Chorus of Teatro La Fenice, Sanzogno.
Production: Graf. Bonus Disc: La Leçon de Musique: Tito Gobbi, Roma 1980. Hardy Classic Video HCD 4052, 139 mins. (opera), 59 mins. (bonus), subtitled
In honor of the Tito Gobbi centenary (in 2013), the Associazione Musicale Tito Gobbi has unearthed and released this Otello, performed in the courtyard of the Doge's Palace in Venice, in August 1966. While technical challenges involved in broadcasting a production back in the '60s, from a venue not designed for theater, caused occasional problems involving camera work and sound, the resulting black-and-white video is well worth having, particularly for Gobbi's brilliant Iago. Although an earlier Gobbi Iago is available from VAI, filmed in Japan in 1959 opposite Mario Del Monaco's titanic Moor, this later document finds the extraordinary baritone no less nimble physically and vocally. In fact, the vastness of the performing area and the evocative atmosphere of the Palazzo Ducale seem to draw from Gobbi a sort of ownership of the environment that is perfect for Iago, as he darts about controlling events like a sardonic puppeteer. And, as one recalls from performances at the Met six months after this one, Gobbi was able to imbue the character with a youthful, amicable persona that made Iago's vile deeds all the more chilling. This video also confirms the recollection that this role, even in late career, was one the great singing actor found vocally congenial. There is a lightness of delivery that makes Iago's Act I drinking song and Act III duet with Cassio particularly stunning. Textual and tonal colors are employed in a manner that feels inevitable rather than applied, and Iago's "Credo" might as well have been written for Gobbi, so perfectly does it suit his gifts. All in all, this is a dazzling performance.
While the remainder of the cast is not on this exalted level, Pier Miranda Ferraro, in the title role, does offer a sturdy dramatic tenor employed with the know-how of one who sang the part often. Facial expressions are frequently lost to the combination of very dark makeup and a scarcity of close-ups, and Miranda Ferraro's body language and vocal acting are not always convincing. But he sings admirably and achieves quite a moving "Niun mi tema." Laura Londi's Desdemona offers a basically attractive Italianate tone, but unfortunately, she is technically unable to employ the requisite piano shading so necessary to this role. Her voice can turn shrill in higher passages, and she is somewhat matronly in appearance. Giorgio Giorgetti is a vocally suave Cassio. Nino Sanzogno and the forces of La Fenice deliver the goods; the enormous chorus is particularly thrilling. Director Herbert Graf used the space beautifully, with sensational visual groupings — although the chorus's attempt at unison arm gestures on chosen words verges on the comic.
The hour-long bonus disc of Gobbi coaching two young singers (bass Wolfgang Lenz and soprano Mani Mekler) at his home, in excerpts from Don Carlo, Tosca and Simon Boccanegra, is worth the cost of the set. Filmed in 1980 for French television, this is more than a star singer lending his aura and snippets of demonstration (although Gobbi does offer ample, absolutely thrilling sung/acted examples to his singers); there is also a wealth of insight and specific information on offer. Along the way, the singers do improve, and we are treated to innumerable goose-bump-inducing moments supplied by the maestro.
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