, September 2010
This live issue from the 2008 Salzburg Festival centers around Riccardo Muti’s driving, powerful take on Verdi’s score. He gets wonderful, idiomatic playing from the Vienna Philharmonic, and the recorded balance in fact tends to favor the orchestra over the fine, largely fresh-voiced singers. (Muti uses an unusual edition of Act III’s concertato that Verdi wrote for the opera’s Paris premiere, featuring considerable variants in the soprano line and lighter orchestration, but I prefer the standard version.)
On the evidence of this recording, Latvian-born Aleksandrs Antonenko’s chances of developing into the next great Otello look quite promising. He certainly commands all the notes, plus the stamina. He is also tall, with good features for the stage. (He looks here a little like the young Mussolini, which may be intentional on director Stephen Langridge’s part.) Antonenko, only thirty-three at the time of this performance, shows some concern for Verdi’s dynamic markings and is generally on top of the text (if rarely deeply inside it). He does a commendable, exciting job, needing more dramatic nuance and tonal variety.
Carlos Alvarez’s Iago, styled as Robert de Niro, is solidly vocalized (though one doesn’t remember a personal timbre) and impressive dramatically. Langridge has him literally pulling curtains, rearranging space and time to craft the domestic tragedy; he spies on both Otello–Desdemona duets.
Marina Poplavskaya, as Desdemona...has a lovely if sometimes glassy soprano...considerable vocal talent and dramatic determination, somewhat at the expense of charm and spontaneity...Her Desdemona is extremely contemporary, very sexually playful...and made up like a supermodel...the climaxes of the quartet, for example—are of great beauty...Her acting is intelligent yet pose-y. She sings more compellingly in Act III and—like every Desdemona of my experience—is at her best in a moving Act IV.
Tenor Stephen Costello is very well deployed as Cassio. Langridge makes the handsome young lieutenant genuinely neglectful of his duties; upon landing, Otello entrusts him with a young Turkish captive—the Added Mimed Character seems to be essential to contemporary stagings of opera—whom the crowd proceeds to tease, torture and sexually abuse. Cassio, whom Otello witnesses playing the field with local girls—a good touch—pays him no attention. Elsewhere, Langridge’s staging toes the line between extremely sharp observation and donnish fussiness.
Barbara Di Castri offers a highly sympathetic Emilia, Mikhail Petrenko a fine, only slightly Russian-tinged Lodovico...Emma Ryott’s costumes are magnificent.