24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
In my view this is an exceptional performance of Otello, one that ranks with the best of those currently available on video disc. Along with Riccardo Muti's masterful leadership in the pit and the quality of playing from the members of the Vienna Philharmonic, there is wonderful singing by the three principles: Aleksandrs Antonenko (Otello), Marina Poplavskaya (Desdemona), and Carlos Alvarez (Iago). All three of these stars have beautiful voices which they use intelligently and with appropriate dramatic effect for this production.
Marina Poplavskaya easily takes her place with those lyric sopranos able to float beautiful pianissimos. However, the ease with which both Antonenko and Alvarez comfortably handle piano and pianissimo passages is both an unexpected bonus and quite beautiful to hear. Oh, they can certainly produce thrilling, ringing high notes when appropriate (check out the "Si pel Ciel" duet between Otello and Iago!), but when the score markings call for softer singing we are treated to something truly special.
For example, in Iago's Second Act aria, "Era la notte," Alvarez's pianissimo delivery evokes a degree of menace that's quite chilling. And the duet between Otello and Desdemona that brings Act One to a close is gorgeously sung and ends, not on competing forte high notes, but on softly sung high notes that allow their voices to blend with the believable tenderness of young lovers.
One hopes that Mr. Antonenko will be careful in his choice of roles as he builds his future repertoire so that he can preserve not only his heroic, ringing tenor voice, but also his ability to sing such lovely pianissimo notes when the music and the story-line call for it.
Secondary roles are all capably handled, with especially impressive singing by Stephen Costello (Cassio), Barbara Di Castri (Emilia), and Mikhail Petrenko (Lodovico).
The costuming in this production is nicely done in styles that are consistent with the time-setting of the story. As to the staging, those who admire the beauty and time-period-appropriate designs of, say, Franco Zeffirelli, will be disappointed. However this production's staging, though somewhat sparse, is not jarring and it does feature some interesting symbolic effects.
Most Blu-ray discs these days feature picture and sound quality that is a joy to the viewer/listener and this one does not disappoint. In addition, the disc's bonus extra, "Talking Otello," features especially interesting and insightful interviews with the stage director, Stephen Langridge, and with all of the principle singers and with several of those in secondary roles.
One minor criticism is Antonenko's acting which is a bit unimaginative, consisting mostly of striding aggressively around the stage and scowling or sneering. However, one has the impression that this young man will quickly move up the learning curve of his profession and that his acting will improve dramatically (pun not intended) in future performances of this opera.
A more serious criticism, and the reason for four stars instead of five, is the excessive use of extreme close-ups of the lead singers. (One can literally count the sweat drops on the faces of some of the singers, especially Antonenko's.) This technique, which inexplicably has become de rigueur with today's opera video directors, is more off-putting than it is entertaining. It robs viewers of the perspective and scope of a given scene as viewed by the opera theater's live audience. But even worse, it can completely destroy the mood of a given scene. A prime example is the end of the Act One love duet when Otello and Desdemona embrace and kiss prior to adjourning to their bedroom. Instead of being swept up by the music and the romantic mood of the moment, viewers are inclined to wonder what Ms. Poplavskaya was thinking as Mr. Antonenko planted a drippingly-wet kiss full on her lips!
On balance, however, a superb opera experience.