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Verdi: Otello (Sung in Russian)
Giuseppe Verdi, Bryan Balkwill, Evgeny Svetlanov
Verdi: Otello (Sung in Russian)
Genre: Classical
  •  Track Listings (25) - Disc #1
  •  Track Listings (14) - Disc #2


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CD Reviews

Otello a la russe
postupano | Arlington VA | 11/23/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)

"If you've been losing sleep wondering how Verdi's "Otello" would sound performed in Russian, here's your chance to check it out. I've heard a fair amount of standard rep in Russian, and to my ears "Otello" is not as effective as, for example, "The Barber of Seville." Maybe it's the comedy/tragedy thing at work. However, if the language is not a problem I would imagine any Verdi fan would enjoy this recording on its own merits.
As you can judge by the cover billing, Ponto anticipates that the principal attraction here will be Vishnevskaya's Desdemona. Indeed, the program notes characterize the release of this 1969 Moscow Conservatory live performance in Russian as an 80th birthday tribute to the soprano and the included bonus tracks feature her in excerpts from Act 3 of a 1964 Covent Garden "Aida". The "Otello," however, has far more than the admirable Vishnevskaya going for it.
The young Atlantov's powerhouse singing as Otello features the right kind of voice for the title role, it is easy to see why he a few years later he was in demand everywhere for the part. To my ears, he sounds a bit like Ramon Vinay but less beefy. The Iago, Oleg Klyonov, is otherwise unknown to me but he delivers a worthy villain with plenty of voice--not as distinctive as Lisitsian, but a pleasure nonetheless. Vishnevskaya's Desdemona is not as Italianate as one can hear on her Preiser LV recital (a must-hear for her fans and an eye-opener for those who know her only in Russian repertoire); the basic timbre here leans more toward the hooded tone that introduced her to many Western ears in the premiere recording of Britten's "War Requiem" in 1963. She does some lovely things, especially in her Willow Song/Ave Maria in the last act, and it is interesting to hear the way the voice shifts when she switches briefly to the Latin of "Ave Maria." I don't think the part is necessarily a great fit for her; she sure doesn't sound like your wimpy blond stereotype. A further plus is the excellent Cassio by comprimario Alexei Maslennikov, who you may remember as the Simpleton in Karajan's studio "Boris".
Svetlanov starts out somewhat underpowered but picks up steam by the end of Act 2 and does a particularly fine job with the final act. Some of the seams in the music show from time to time (a clunky "Fuoco di gioia" chorus, a sing-songy beginning to "Era la notte"), but we have to make allowances for live performance. It's not specified, but I'm guessing this was a concert broadcast or perhaps a radio broadcast; the audience is very well-behaved, with only a bit of coughing and applause held until the ends of acts. Sound is very decent mono, the included booklet features extensive tracking with headings in Italian but no libretto in Russian or Italian. There is also a detailed biographical note on Vishnevskaya's career.

The Covent Garden "Aida" bonus tracks give us about 19 minutes of Act 3, from the beginning through the Aida/Amonasro duet. The sound is frustratingly bad, lots of stage clunkings and what sounds like an onstage river gurgling loudly. What you can hear of Vishnevskaya and Peter Glossop's Amonasro is pretty good, but they sound like they're in the proverbial phone booth. If you want to hear a better representation of Vishnevskaya's Aida,check out Ponto's release of "Aida" (see my review).

Casual opera fans need to have a reference recording of "Otello" in the original language, but for Verdians interested in a different slant on the familiar, this one has a lot to offer. Not your number one choice but a very worthy supplemental recording.