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Otello: From the Royal Opera House

1992, 2008
Distributed by Films Media Group, 132 West 31st St., 17th Floor, New York, NY 10001; 800-257-5126
Produced by BBC/Royal Opera House
Director n/a
DVD, color, 146 min.
High School - General Adult
Music, Opera, Theater

Reviewed by Charles Burkart, Media Bibliographer, West Virginia University, Morgantown, WV

Highly Recommended  Highly Recommended   
Date Entered: 8/8/2011

Of all the great Verdi Otellos of recent memory (Del Monaco, Jon Vickers, Franco Corelli) none have been as consistently satisfying as Placido Domingo. Domingo has dominated this role, as no one else has, from the late twentieth to the early twenty first century. In this live 1992 Royal Opera House performance not only do we have Domingo at the top of his form, but we also have the outstanding Desdemona of Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, and the superlative conducting of Sir Georg Solti. If the Iago of Sergei Leiferkus doesn’t quite equal the other principal singers (perhaps only James Morris could have), this is no reflection on his innate ability or mastery of the role.

This Films Media Group DVD of Verdi’s Otello is from a live performance at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, but there is remarkably little audience noise or disruptive clapping after arias and choruses. Occasionally, the principals sound distant due to microphone placement; however, this is not unusual with a live performance. Sets are elaborate and grandiose as might be expected from Covent Garden. The lighting and stage direction seems to mimic Caravaggio, where characters emerge dramatically from the darkness. Camera angles are limited by necessity with only the most dramatic moments in close-up. The Royal Opera House Orchestra under the capable leadership of Sir Georg Solti sounds both dynamic and natural.

There have been other video recordings of Otello featuring Domingo. One, I believe, was made during the eighties and another was made at the Met in 1996. The Met performance is also a strong one and also features René Fleming as Desdemona, James Morris as Iago, and James Levine in the orchestral pit. The Covent Garden and Met performances are both equally impressive. I give a slight edge to the earlier Covent Garden performance because of Placido Domingo’s fresher voice and his fine stage acting.

I have only a few criticisms of this Films Media Group Otello presentation: no subtitles were available and no documentation or notes were provided with the discs. In addition, chapter headings were not labeled making navigation of the DVD difficult. Despite these minor drawbacks, I highly recommend this wonderful and moving performance of Giuseppe Verdi’s masterpiece, Otello. It should be in all college and university collections and most public library collections as well.

In an unrelated note, the late Princess Diana and Prince Charles, shown in the video, were in attendance at this notable performance.