VERDI: Otello (complete opera) (1962/2012)
Conductor: Giuseppe Patané
Renata Tebaldi (Desdemona)/ Hans Beirer (Otello)/ William Dooley (Jago)/ Mario Ferrara (Cassio)/ Karl-Ernst Mercker (Rodrigo)/ Sieglinde Wagner (Emilia)/ Ivan Sardi (Lodovico)/ Pecca Salomaa (Montano)/ Hans-Dietrich Pohl (Herald); Chorus and Orchestra of the Deutsche Oper Berlin
Director: Hans-Peter Lehmann
Studio: Arthaus 101 644 [Distr. by Naxos]
Video: 4:3 Black & White
Audio: PCM Mono
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish, Italian, German
Length: 155 minutes
As you can tell by the heading, despite the male lead this is a production that is from first to last all about Renata Tebaldi. The prima donna did not make a lot of appearances in Germany, but on her penultimate visit she promised to return. When she did they pulled out all the stops—the press could talk of little else, watching her every move, all the way down to her newly-dyed blond hair and the ever-present green slacks that she wore. To really spice things up it was decided that aside from the one-off opera appearance she would make, the thing would be televised as well. When the rumor that she would be singing Otello, perhaps her most signature of all roles, proved true, the excitement was unabated. Tebaldi had made a career out of Desdemona, Verdi’s remade saintly and elegantly wronged heroine, performing it on stage well over 100 times, and had chosen it for her Metropolitan Opera debut in 1955, the point from which she made New York home. After this she toured extensively all over Europe, but rarely to northern Europe–this was the last time Germany would see her.
The Deutsche Oper Berlin was not in a position to create a new set for this production (which was rare in those days anyway) but managed to put together a respectable solution that satisfied both those in attendance and those watching at home on television. For us today watching this in black and white, the sets are not likely to have much of an impact anyway. The German opera company in 1962 sang virtually every opera in German, but because of the Tebaldi star status were willing to bend and present the opera in Italian. But the chorus did not have time to learn the parts so we have the strange—although not so strange back then—situation where the solo singers are performing in Italian and the chorus in German, which is strange to my ears.
Tebaldi sings her role here as well as she ever has, but no better than that. I still prefer the recording she made for Decca with Mario Del Monaco and Karajan. Here Hans Beirer is an excellent Otello, and the very young American William Dooley is marvelous as the tortured and torturing Jago. The whole cast is up to the festive TV requirements of this production, and as an historical document this rates rather highly for those so inclined. Everyone else, especially those looking for a good, well-sung and well-produced Otello in modern sound and color will not find what they are looking for here. The mono sound is quite serviceable and clear, as good as you might expect it to be, but we are years away from audiophile quality.
If any recording is essential to the genre, this is it.