PERFORMER: Carlo Cossutta, Gabriel Bacquier, Margaret PriceVienna Boys’ Choir, Vienna State Opera Chorus, Vienna PO/Georg Solti
CATALOGUE NO: 440 045-2 ADD (1978)Reissue
After the hype surrounding Pavarotti’s first and, to date, only complete performances and recording of the demanding title role at concerts to mark Solti’s retirement as music director of the Chicago Symphony, I feared that Solti’s earlier (1977) and infinitely better studio recording would never be transferred to CD. Well here it is, and if anything it sounds even finer than I had remembered.
Although the recording was made in Vienna, Solti had performed Otello at the Paris Opera with the same three principals and the performance has a theatrical atmosphere which I find completely absent from the Chicago version. Carlo Cossutta was, for a time in the Seventies, the only really acceptable alternative to Jon Vickers and Plácido Domingo as Otello, and he has advantages over both: a more authentically ‘Italianate’ timbre – dark and baritonal like Vickers’s, warm and Mediterranean like Domingo’s – and a native delivery of the text. He is also more musical than the other great Italian Otello of the postwar period, Del Monaco.
Bacquier was always a controversial Iago, more notable for his intellect and understanding of character than for his vocal endowments, but as Iago this makes him preferable to all but two of his recorded rivals: Giuseppe Valdengo (RCA/Toscanini) and Tito Gobbi (RCA/Serafin).
The glory of the set is Margaret Price’s Desdemona, the most beautifully sung, the most moving and musical I know. The set is worth buying for her alone. It goes without saying that the small parts are strongly taken (albeit by non-Italians), that the orchestral playing and chorus are superb and the recording is excellent. Not my favourite Otello – that would be Serafin’s version – but it ranks high alongside Toscanini and Levine (also RCA). Hugh Canning