The Greatest "Otello" on Records
madamemusico | Cincinnati, Ohio USA | 02/25/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I have had a love-hate relationship with this recording, and Toscanini in general, since I began listening to classical recordings in 1966. Part of my displeasure, however, was due to the phony echo which was overlaid on the original masters - and which RCA took 30 years to correct. Fortunately, for the new reissue on Gold Seal CDs, they went to the original masters in the Library of Congress, which had the cleanest and most forward sound.Vinay is not the subtlest of Otellos - that honor goes to Jon Vickers - and he is a little too loud at the beginning of the Love Duet, but otherwise he presents the suffering Moor with excellent phrasing and plenty of voice. Nelli's Desdemona is lilting and fragile, remarkable for a big-voiced soprano more comfortable with Aida. And Valdengo, the most underrated baritone of the 1940s, gives a surprisingly vivid, Tito Gobbi-like performance of Iago here (I'm sure Toscanini must have coached him, since after all he was in the pit of the premiere performance and heard the great Victor Maurel in the part).Yet the reason I keep returning to this performance is Toscanini. In places, he actually conducts some of the music SLOWER than you're used to hearing, but throughout he brings out the inner voices with a clarity and chamber-music-like sonority that is still unmatched today. My only complaint is that cellist Frank Miller, usually superb, plays the opening phrases of the Love Duet music somewhat stiffly. Otherwise, this is one of those recordings, like the 1940 Missa Solemnis with Milanov and Bjorling, that makes you really believe that this was the greatest conductor of the century.By the way: my recommendation is for the RCA Gold Seal issue, not this one which I haven't heard, but since this one is in the Top 50 picks I put the review here. To find the RCA version, click beyond #200 on "More." You'll find it under 201-250 as "Toscanini Collection Vol. 58 - Verdi: Otello." You will not be disappointed."
Not perfect, yet still the best Otello on disks.
madamemusico | Cincinnati, Ohio USA | 02/11/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)
"How do I begin? Perhaps by saying that I have lived with this "Otello," in ALL its various incarnations, since 1969--a good 31 years--and, while I have preferred the singing of this one or that over the principal artists here, no recording of the opera satisfies me as much.To start with the nit-picks: the cello solo that starts "Gia nella notte densa" is not as lyrical and relaxed as it could have been (a surprise, since Frank Miller was one of the NBC Symphony's premiere first-chair players). Ramon Vinay, though possessed of an outstanding heroic tenor voice in 1947 (and one eminently suited to Otello), is not soft enough in the Love Duet nor subtle enough in "Dio ti giocondi" or "Dio! Mi potevi scagliar." And, of course, we are stuck here with Studio 8-H, 1947 sound, which was far from optimum even in its day.That being said, WHAT A GORGEOUS PERFORMANCE THIS IS. Old Toscanini (80 years old at the time) never gave a more sensitively shaped or meticulously articulated performance than this one, and never once does he crush or crunch the music as he did in "Traviata" or parts of "Aida" (though the much inferior music of "Aida" is actually helped in places by his dramatic urgency). Herva Nelli, a soprano who was vilified in her day, leaves one wondering why. Her singing has everything one can ask for: good tone, technique, elegance, eloquence, shaping and shading. I put her on an equal with Gabriella Tucci and Martina Arroyo as one of the best spinto sopranos I have ever heard (and I heard both Tucci and Arroyo in person). Giuseppe Valdengo, a baritone largely ignored by the critics, sings a beautifully-phrased, dramatically understated Iago, more believable as a villain because of the understatement.Yet--again--one keeps coming back to Toscanini's conducting. Despite the sound limitations, there is no other "Otello" that brings out all the inner voices as well as this, and he approaches the opera like a symphony, which is to say, with an abiding respect for the interrelationship of the various scenes.What I'd like to know is, what happened to the RCA Gold Seal edition of this recording (60302-2-RG)? Remastered from the original acetates in the Library of Congress, that edition finally eliminated the annoying tinniness and phony echo that RCA engineers slapped on this recording in the LP era (and, apparently, couldn't remove). Not having heard this Arkadia release, I give it 4 stars anyway, just because the performance is so good--give it a shot, I don't think you'll be dissappointed."
THE GREATEST OIF THE GREAT
madamemusico | 07/18/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"TOSCANINI DIDNT ALWAYS GET THE GREATEST SINGERS ALIVE.....BUT WHEN THE PERFORMANCE WAS DONE, THEY GAVE HIM THE GREATEST PERFORMANCE AVAILABLE ANYWHERE. SINGERS OFTEN SAID THEY DIDNT BELIEVE THAT WAS THEM ON THE RECORDINGS...HOW THEY DID WHAT THEY DID UNDER TOSCANINI. COMPARED TO TOSCANINI, ALL OTHER CONDUCTORS SOUND LIKE UNTRAINED AMATEURS. SOME BETTER THAN OTHERS, NONE ON HIS LEVEL. NOTES TOSCANINI PLAYED WILL NEVER BE PLAYED THAT WAY AGAIN, THEY CANNOT EQUAL HIS ELECTRIFYING CREATIONS."