Verdi: Otello

COMPOSERS: Verdi
LABELS: Opus Arte
ALBUM TITLE: Verdi
WORKS: Otello
PERFORMER: José Cura, Krassimira Stoyanova, Lado Ataneli, Vittorio Grigolo, Ketevan Kemoklidze; Gran Teatre del Liceu Chorus & SO/Antoni Ros-Marbà; dir. Willy Decker (Barcelona, 2006)
CATALOGUE NO: OA 0963 D (NTSC system; dts 5.1; 16:9 anamorphic)
There is quite a lot wrong with the performance and production which we see and hear on this DVD, but the crucial thing is that the heart of Verdi’s greatest drama is here, as it often isn’t in productions which are much more faithful to the directions we read in the score, or performances which are sung by finer voices and with more refined orchestral playing. Willy Decker, the producer, presents no storm in the opening scene, everyone is dressed in spotless white (presumably to contrast with Otello), there is no scenery, except a huge white cross, here or at any other stage of the action. In the last Act, Desdemona goes to sleep on the ground, not in her nuptial bed. There is even a cut in the music of Act II, where we don’t hear the mandolin chorus, sung by children in praise of Desdemona.

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For some way into watching all this, I was resentful. But I found I was being moved by the simplicity and depth of characterisation, especially José Cura’s portrayal of Otello. Cura is a singer I’ve often found self-regarding and comically macho, but he sings and acts here with an inwardness and intensity which make a profound impression. So does Krassimira Stoyanova as Desdemona, not in the first flush of youth, but heartfelt and direct; while Lado Ataneli’s Jago is a brilliantly understated study in jovial malevolence. With strong conducting from Antoni Ros-Marbà, the whole cast collaborate to give us the truth of this desperately upsetting work, as no other DVD and few live performances I’ve seen of it ever have. Michael Tanner