WORKS: Otello (sung in English)
PERFORMER: Charles Craig, Rosalind Plowright, Neil Howlett, Shelagh Squires, Bonaventura Bottone; English National Opera Chorus & Orchestra/Mark Elder
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 3068(2)
This 1983 Otello was captured live at the London Coliseum, and the sometimes far-back voices on the stage – further muffled in crowd scenes – often defeat the purpose of a clearly heard English text. Yet once past a rather staid opening storm, this is an electrifying performance centred around the astonishing Otello of the late Charles Craig, 62 at the time of the recording and one of the greatest tenors Britain has ever produced. True, there are occasional flat high notes at less than full pelt, but the steely wrath of his oath-taking after Iago’s temptation is surpassed only by Vickers on Karajan’s later version, and his death scene stands alongside Domingo’s interpretation as the most nakedly emotional of all.
The entire experience gives goose bumps in all the right places, and that applies to the tenacious Iago of Neil Howlett and Rosalind Plowright’s Desdemona. Her consonants may be absent, her vowels modified, but she is a passionate as well as a luminous match for her Moor. Elder combines detail with breadth of drama, pulling no punches, and gives us the bonus of the drastically revised Act III ensemble Verdi composed for Paris in 1894. David Nice