Otello for those Early Spring Christmas Stockings

Otello with Riccardo Muti and the Chicago Symphony...splendid(Photo: chicago symphony live)
Otello with Riccardo Muti and the Chicago Symphony...splendid(Photo: chicago symphony live)

Never too soon to shop for those holiday gifts, is it? There’s an old saying, “send yourself roses.”

Roses die.

I’ve sent myself this new recording of the supreme Italian opera, Otello by Giuseppe Verdi. I need more opera recordings like a fish needs a fire engine, but this one is a must have. Riccardo Muti conducts the Chicago Symphony and the splendid Chicago Symphony chorus (Duain Wolfe, conductor). The recording comes from performances given at Orchestra Hall in Chicago in 2012.

Muti has been known for a tight approach to Italian opera. He performs only those notes he is sure the composer has written. Optional high notes, cuts, repeats, are out. Muti’s performances celebrate less the singer than the work itself. We got away from that in past years, but consider: If Renata Tebaldi or Mario del Monaco wanted to sing their understanding of Otello who was going to tell them no? Karajan tried.

The opening storm sequence had me ducking under the table waiting for a deluge. Italian baritone Carlo Guelfi has an adequate voice but captures the sneer and faked-sincerity of Iago. Soprano Krassmira Stoyanova has a gorgeous voice and she is a stronger Desdemona than expected. Yes, Otello strangles her in the end but he has to work to do it. She’s a find. The real find of this recording is Latvian tenor Alexandrs Antonenko. He’s been around.  I’ve heard him before without noticing much. Muti has wrested his stentorian tenor to the ground. He’s one of the few Otellos I’ve heard that has a beautiful voice. He misses he last bit of passion or torment-see Vinay or del Monaco-but Antonenko has made this killer role his own.

The Chicago Symphony is far more glorious an orchestra than I’m sure Verdi had at La Sacla in 1883. And oh, that chorus!

Go buy this.

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