Otello (Salzburg Festival 2008) on Blu-Ray

The first is the soprano Marina Poplavskaya, a nearly perfect Desdemona,
despite the fact that she’s in no way fragile, shy, or ingenuous. Her
emotions span the whole Shakespearean range from extreme tenderness to subdued
anger — she’s a Desdemona to be reckoned with. Shakespeare includes
a wit-contest between Iago and Desdemona, a scene missing from the opera and
often cut from the play, in which Desdemona shows a playful, even flashy side
— Poplavskaya gives us this intelligence and more. And her singing is
beautiful: during the last “Salce!” in the second verse of the
“Willow Song,” she fines her voice down until it sounds like the
English horn that’s about to echo it, as if you weren’t sure where
the singing stopped and the soulless nymph in the orchestra began. (All the
singing in this performance is beautiful, though Aleksandrs Antonenko, the
Otello, and Carlos ¡lvarez, the Jago, are both somewhat stolid, monochromatic
presences, one all hysterical impulse, the other all forthright snarl.)

The second reason is Riccardo Muti’s decision to include the
rarely-heard 1894 Paris version of the Act 3 finale, in which Verdi thinned the
texture of the choral-orchestral mass. This has the advantage that Iago’s
instructions to Roderigo to kill Cassio can be clearly understood, but great
disadvantage that the surge of energy, the urgent darkening that begins when
Iago sings “Una parola,” never manifests itself — the
familiar 1887 version is the more powerful experience. The director Stephen
Langridge, in the Salzburg production, casts a green light over the actors in
this scene, providing a Shakespearean touch missing from the opera: Iago tells
Othello to beware a green-eyed monster, but Jago tells Otello to fear a dark,
blind, living hydra — “occhi verdi” never appear in
Boito’s text.

Langridge’s production is better to think about than to look at,
though he provides a sort of framed mini-stage at the center, and it
occasionally appears that Jago is showing Otello a slide show of infidelity
— I like that. Langridge takes tremendous care with the choral scenes:
“Fuoco di gioia!” shows some bawdy women nearly raping a young boy,
as if Jago, all horned evil, were in charge of the staging even before the plot
is hatched; and during “Dove guardi splendono” Desdemona is given
first a conch, then a small plaster statue of Venus — Langridge was
clearly remembering “Venere splende” in Act 1, Otello’s last
words in the love duet. During the vengeance duet Otello will smash the statue;
at the beginning of Act 4 Desdemona will try absently to re-attach the head.
Iconoclasm is the basic modality of this production, appropriately enough in a
play about the shattering of reputation.

In fact Langridge shatters the stage itself. During the storm, a vast jagged
crack, like a cartoon image of an earthquake, opens in the floor; and at the
end of Act 3, as Jago wonders what would stop him from putting his foot on
Otello’s skull, he stomps on a low wide glass platform, which breaks in
two — the rear half lifts in the air, and its huge sharp zigzags will
brood over the rest of the action. Verdi and Boito disagreed about the handling
of the Act 3 finale — Verdi suggested to Boito that he write verses about
a new invasion: “Suddenly in the distance are heard drums, trumpets,
cannon fire, etc., etc…“The Turks! The Turks! Populace and
soldiers invade the stage. All are surprised and frightened! Otello recovers
himself and stands erect like a lion”; Boito replied, “That attack
of the Turks seems to me like a fist breaking the window of a room where two
people are about to die of asphyxiation. That private atmosphere of death so
carefully created by Shakespeare suddenly vanishes …” The
Langridge fracturing of the glass platform is the fist breaking the window: to
some extent it gives the effect that Verdi initially wanted; but the composer
himself came to agree with Boito, that a certain claustrophobia was a better

Daniel Albright

See below for this recording in standard DVD format:

image_description=Giuseppe Verdi: Otello [C Major 701504]
product_title=Giuseppe Verdi: Otello
product_by=Otello: Aleksandrs Antonenko; Desdemona: Marina Poplavskaya; Jago: Carlos ¡lvarez; Emilia: Barbara Di Castri; Cassio: Stephen Costello; Roderigo: Antonello Ceron; Lodovico: Mikhail Petrenko; Montano: Simone Del Savio; Un araldo: Andrea Porta. Salzburg Festival Children’s Chorus. Vienna State Opera Chorus. Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. Riccardo Muti, conductor. Stephen Langridge, stage director. George Souglides, set design. Emma Ryott, costume design. Giuseppe Di lorio, lighting design. Recorded live from the Salzburg Festival 2008.
product_id=C Major 701504 [Blu-Ray DVD]