Riccardo Muti: Otello, Verdi
Verdi’s Otello as conducted by Riccardo Muti benefits from tip-top precision from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra players. They reach a level of pristine excellence that any opera house orchestra – no matter how eminent – would struggle to equal. Recorded in Orchestra Hall, Chicago, in April 2011, the wide range and high-definition focus of the sound give highlights such as the opening storm a thrilling sharpness of detail. But with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra comes the Chicago Symphony Chorus, and here an authentic opera house ensemble would have the edge in tonal richness and attack.
Muti’s own performance could do with some extra punch, too; it feels slower and less vivid than of yore, as if some of the electrical charge had gone. He performs, incidentally, the later version of the big Act III ensemble. It was rewritten for the opera’s Parisian premiere in 1894, seven years after the Italian premiere, and has not widely caught on.
Of the three central vocal performances, soprano Krassimira Stoyanova’s Desdemona is the most complete. Despite her Slavic background, her lyric tone sounds convincingly Italianate, while her musicality pays dividends in the Willow Song and Ave Maria.
Tenor Aleksandrs Antonenko’s Moor has the power and vigour to survive the demanding title role unscathed, but his approach is more stentorian than searching; rarely are you riven by the depths of Otello’s misery. Baritone Carlo Guelfi knows how Iago should go, but he sounds past his best, his tone losing firmness and focus. Smaller roles, notably tenor Juan Francisco Gatell’s Cassio, go well; but apart from Stoyanova’s contribution, this is not among the leading versions available on disc.