Verdi: Otello

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Verdi
LABELS: LSO Live
WORKS: Otello
PERFORMER: Simon O’Neill, Gerald Finley, Anne Schwanewilms, Allan Clayton, Ben Johnson, Alexander Tsymbalyuk, Matthew Rose, Lukas Jakobski, Eufemia Tufano; LSO & Chorus/Colin Davis
CATALOGUE NO: LSO Live LSO700

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Otello is one of the most thrilling operas, and also one of the most upsetting. It begins with a great storm and ends in abject whispers, as the deluded hero, realising the insane folly of murdering his wife, kills himself and brokenly mutters the music of the end of their great love duet.

In this recording from the Barbican everything contributes to accentuating extremes: Colin Davis gets the LSO, in shattering form, to play chords like cannon shots. It’s hard to know where to set the volume control so as to hear the quiet passages without being shell-shocked by the louder ones.

The two male leads are superb: Simon O’Neill is the most complete Otello since Domingo, and some of his grandest passages are deeply stirring; Gerald Finley’s debut as Iago is also a great reading – the most chilling I have ever heard.

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But unfortunately Anne Schwanewilms is a feeble Desdemona, making a somewhat droopy character worse by cloudy enunciation, some vague pitching and little commitment. Compare with Renata Scotto under Levine and the point is instantly made. I’m glad to have this recording, frustrated at its flaw and worried about its exaggerations. Michael Tanner