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Verdi: Otello - Muti

Verdi: Otello - Muti

CSO Resound  CSOR9011303 (2 discs)

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Opera


Verdi: Otello

Aleksandrs Antonenko (Otello)
Krassimira Stoyanova (Desdemona)
Carlo Guelfi (Iago)
Barbara di Castri (Emilia)
Juan Francisco Gatell (Cassio)
Michael Spyres (Roderigo)
Paolo Battaglia (Montano)
Eric Owens (Lodovico)
David Govertsen (A Herald)
Chicago Children's Choir
Chicago Symphony Chorus & Orchestra
Riccardo Muti

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Review by Graham Williams - October 13, 2013

As far as the record companies are concerned it would seem that the 200th anniversary of the birth of Giuseppe Verdi has been somewhat overshadowed by that of his German contemporary Richard Wagner. So a new recording on SACD of Otello – the greatest of the composer's three Shakespeare operas – conducted by the doyen of Verdi specialists Riccardo Muti, is most welcome.

This release on the CSO Resound label has been compiled from from live performances given in Orchestra Hall at Symphony Centre, Chicago on 7, 9 and 12 April 2011 and is, in most respects, a triumph for all concerned.

If the beginning of this opera doesn't lift you out of your seat then nothing will, and here Muti does not disappoint. He launches the storm scene with tremendous force aided by the precision and power of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at the top of their form. Unlike the only other SACD recording of this work by Colin Davis on LSO Live Verdi: Otello - Davis there are no extraneous sound effects, leaving Verdi's vivid music alone to depict the tumult. The sustained organ pedal notes, notably absent on the Davis version, are strongly reproduced throughout this opening scene. The mighty Chicago Symphony Chorus – here in greater numbers than one would find in any opera house – and their Director Duain Wolfe deserve the highest praise for the strength and accuracy of their singing and clear enunciation here and throughout the opera.

Muti has engaged a fine cast of international singers for these Chicago concerts – one that is dominated by the superb performances of the Latvian tenor Aleksandrs Antonenko in the title role and the Bulgarian soprano Krassimira Stoyanova as Desdemona.

Antonenko is the possessor of a firm and heroic voice ideally suited to this challenging role and though, unsurprisingly, he lacks the Italianate sound of say a Domingo or Pavarotti so did some of the greatest interpreters of Otello such as Jon Vickers and James McCracken. Antonenko's ringing top notes are delivered without strain and he never makes an ugly sound even in the work's most taxing passages. His fine portrayal of the character's gradual disintegration through gnawing jealousy benefits from his experience in the opera house.

The Desdemona of Krassimira Stoyanova is most beautifully sung. Her lovely youthful-sounding voice has richness, individuality and an occasional touch of steel which suggests that this character is a girl with spirit. This is something that distinguishes Stoyanova's Desdemona from some of the wishy washy portrayals found on disc. Her complete command of Verdi's soaring vocal lines in Acts II and III and flawless accounts of the Act IV 'Willow Song' and 'Ave Maria' mark her out as a soprano of the highest quality.

The third, and arguably most important character in this opera is Iago. Unfortunately Carlo Guelfi delivers a rather undistinguished and somewhat unsubtle rendition of this role. His singing is generally firm, but he conspicuously fails to communicate the character's vitriolic evil and bitterness, particularly when compared with any of the great Iagos of the past (or with Gerald Finley for Davis) and his one-dimensional performance is all too obvious.

All the smaller roles, however, are well cast with the fine young tenor Juan Francisco Gatell as a bright voiced Cassio and Eric Owens as a sonorous Ludovico.

As is to be expected Muti's performance of the score demonstrates his complete understanding of Verdian style. He unfailingly communicates his clear-sighted vision of the piece to both his singers and his virtuoso orchestra. His pacing of each of the four Acts ( each fractionally slower than Davis) does allow every detail of the marvellous score to be illuminated with unfussy clarity.


The recorded sound is some of the best that I have heard from this source. Producer David Frost and engineer Christopher Willis have brilliantly captured the atmosphere of the live performance, thankfully free from any intrusive audience noise. Instrumentalists and singers are precisely located in a sound stage that is both wide and deep. Changing perspectives, such as the off-stage chorus in Act II are well managed, whilst the use of the surround channels to convey the action at various places as the opera unfolds is both imaginative and appropriate – these touches heighten one's sense of involvement in the performance.

Definitely recommended in spite of some reservations.

Copyright © 2013 Graham Williams and HRAudio.net

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