Verdi - Otello / Solti, Domingo, Te Kanawa, Royal Opera Covent Garden

9780769714929: Verdi - Otello / Solti, Domingo, Te Kanawa, Royal Opera Covent Garden
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Superstar tenor Placido Domingo performs one of his signature roles in Verdi's operatic tale of jealous love. Also starring Kiri Te Kanawa.

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For those who want a home video that preserves the kind of treatment Verdi's Otello gets in a first-class international opera house, this Solti-Domingo-Te Kanawa production from Covent Garden looks like the best bet. Neither Georg Solti's conducting nor Elijah Moshinsky's stage direction pulls any punches; this is presented clearly and forcefully as a drama of jealousy (Iago's and Otello's) destroying innocence (Otello's and Desdemona's), in which a military man from a primitive background is plunged into situations and perplexities that his life has not prepared him to handle.

What matters most is the casting of the three leading roles. When this production was taped in 1992, Plácido Domingo and Kiri Te Kanawa were the Otello and Desdemona of choice, and in this production they show why with effective singing and strong characterization. Sergei Leiferkus is, on the whole, a convincing villain, but not quite on the level of the two stars. The orchestra and chorus are outstanding.

Otello was even more spectacularly represented in a 1986 film also using Domingo in the title role. It was directed by Franco Zeffirelli with more concern for visual and emotional impact than for operatic fidelity and, as such, must be judged as a movie, not as an opera in the traditional format. I would not want to be without that unique vision of Verdi's masterpiece, though his cavalier treatment of the music (most notably his omission of the beloved "Willow Song") has alienated many hard-core opera lovers. --Joe McLellan

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