Many of us have been waiting for this 1978 performance from the Metropolitan Opera to be commercially published. It stars Jon Vickers, Renata Scotto, and Cornell MacNeil, at the height of their artistic powers.
Vickers' Otello is overwhelming in its intensity, even ferocity. Every gesture is choreographed to maximum effect; this video may be the most striking example of his acting ability. One can easily see the influence of both Wieland Wagner and Maria Callas on his unique plastique. Vocally, even though he was over fifty years old, the tenor surmounts every difficulty in the score. His studio film of 1973-74 of the same opera is simply not to be compared to this "live" performance.
Scotto is also at her finest in this performance. Most Desdemonas are pallid compared to this intense conception of the role. In the "Ave Maria," she reaches the level of the sublime. This was, incidentally, her only performances in the theatre opposite Vickers.
MacNeil, while not quite in the same exalted league as the tenor and soprano, is a frightening Iago, with his thundering voice. None of these three singers had a "beautiful" voice. In fact, when the young James Morris enters as Lodovico, one is struck by the sheer beauty of his sound. Instead, the three leads give you a transcendent performance, one that will haunt you for a lifetime.
James Levine conducts with great energy, but the staging was originally done by Franco Zeffirelli. It looks no different than what one sees in the provincial houses in America, excepting the fact that the sets and costumes probably cost a great deal of money. As Zeffirelli told Vickers' biographer, Jeannie Williams, in 1999, "I don't consider it my best production at the Met."