This is an excellent and an unusual production. First, it is updated and staged in a modernistic, several-storied, eerily lit ship. Second, it does not have Placido Domingo as Otello. Rather, it has Christian Franz who sings the lyrical parts of Otello most beautifully and sensitively and does well with the more powerful aspects of the part as well. He is not as powerful as Domingo, and less imposing. But it is a wonderfully intelligent characterization and as well sung as one is going to have.
Jurgen Flimm's modernistic setting doesn't work badly; the initial storm is exciting as it should be, and the relationship between characters is, as is usual with Flimm, beautifully and subtlely done (the one clear wrong touch is Iago's thumbs up as he leaves the stage after the truth has come out. It is too self-serving and showy and jarringly modern.). However, the setting dwarfs the singers and has the unfortunate effect of making them less powerful as characters. Ideally, Otello should be like a force of nature (as del Monaco is in the old RAI film). Franz is made small by the setting: a captain of industry, maybe; a great bureaucrat (Eisenhower in World War II?) but not a force of nature. Plus updating the piece also reduces Otello's outsider status and his paranoid-like fear that, as a Moor,he is not loved and respected. Thus, his jealousy is reduced to a purely romantic one and this is a loss. It's a loss inherent in Verdi and Boito's reduction of the Shakespeare play - Otello is a more purely romantic figure and a less complicated one in the opera - but it's unfortunate that Flimm's setting accentuates this diminution.
Emily Magee, the young American soprano, makes a fine Desdemona, moving, loyal and true. Every once in a long while, her tone is a bit too strong, but her Act IV solos are lovely and she makes of Desdemona a strong character rather than the wimp she can be if played limply. Valeri Alexejev makes a very powerful Iago, singing better than more famous baritones. He lacks only the grace and softer colors of Tito Gobbi or Renato Capecchi (in the del Monaco film) to be superb and totally dominating; he is rarely less than very very good.
Daniel Baremboim's conducting is superb, bringing out the power, brutality, gentleness, and sadness of the piece. This is as well conducted as any Otello on DVD.
In themselves, the sets and lighting are often beautiful and striking; the use of primal images, like fire and water, lovely and evocative.
This DVD will broaden your ideas of what is possible with this piece.