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Giuseppe Verdi: Otello
11 Nov 2009

Muti conducts Domingo in Verdi's Otello

The December opening of the La Scala season requires a notable production, and in 2001 a gorgeous new production of Verdi's Otello fit the bill.

Giuseppe Verdi: Otello

Otello: Plácido Domingo; Desdemona: Barbara Frittoli; Iago: Leo Nucci; Emilia: Rossana Rinaldi; Cassio: Cesare Catani; Roderigo: Antonello Ceron; Lodovico: Giovanni Battista Parodi; Montano: Cesare Lana; A herald: Ernesto Panariello. Milan Conservatory Children's Chorus. Milan la Scala Children's Chorus (chorus master: Bruno Casoni). Milan la Scala Chorus (chorus mater: Roberto Gabbiani). Milan la Scala Orchestra. Riccardo Muti, conductor. Graham Vick, stage director. Ezio Frigerio, set design. Franca Squarciapino, costume design. Matthew Richardson, lighting. Recorded live from the Teatro alla Scala, Milan, 2001.

ArtHaus Musik 107090 [DVD]

$25.99  Click to buy

Ezio Frigerio, set designer, and Franca Squarciapino, costumes, must have collaborated closely. Frigerio’s mammoth revolving turret/stairwell features the same gold-flake detailing as the ample fabric wrapped around the singers. This island military outpost must be the most lavishly appointed in the Venetian empire. Graham Vick directed a top-rank cast, with Placido Domingo assuming the Moor for the (announced) final time, Leo Nucci’s veteran Iago, and the lovely Barbara Frittoli as Desdemona. The breakdown between conductor Riccardo Muti and the La Scala orchestra lies in the future — here his precise, taut reading is characteristic of the conductor at his best.

Perhaps because this DVD originated with a live broadcast the night of the premiere — although nowhere in the packaging is a recording date given — the performance feels unsettled, even slightly stiff. Each performer does their experienced best in their respective roles, but there is little warmth or sensuality between Domingo and Frittoli, while Nucci plays his Iago so relaxed and nonchalant that he makes Domingo’s Moor seem alternatively dim or hysterical. Lovers of operatic spectacle will surely appreciate the sheer beauty of the staging, but the tension and brutality of Shakespeare’s drama can’t break through the over-stuffed design.

The subtitles offer the usual stilted translation with the occasional blooper — such as “though he see me aimed” for “though he see me armed.” There are no bonus features. The star cast and ornate design will satisfy many an opera lover. Some others will regret the absence of the naked, raw passions that inspired Verdi’s great score.

Chris Mullins

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