Same performance, different version...
Howard G Brown | Port St. Lucie, FL USA | 01/08/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I believe the excerpted review from "The Rough Guide" refers to the EMI edition, which is the one I have. If Opera d'Oro's sound at least matches that of EMI (which is close to that heard in the Toscanini broadcast on RCA, also with Vinay, from around the same time), this recording is well worth having -- especially at this price.
One simply must hear Vinay in this role, and this could be a supurb alternate to any modern recording you may own. Actually, you could well come to regard it as your first choice. Furtwangler shapes the opera as though it were a dark, luminous tone poem, and of all Verdi's work this surely comes the closest to the Wagnerian ideal of music drama: "Wort und Ton.""
A performance both moving and historically important
boldsworthington | Washington, DC, United States | 11/04/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"First off, let no one be dissuaded from purchasing this set for fear that it may be a sonic disaster. While I have not heard the EMI edition about which several buyers have elsewhere expressed great disappointment, I can say that this edition is entirely listenable and certainly will tax the patience of no one experienced in listening to older recordings. This set has neither dropouts nor snap-crackle-and-pop obbligato. Is it the last word in 1951 recording technology? No, indeed. But from all I had read elsewhere, I was prepared for a throwback to the worst of the acoustic era. You can hear considerable orchestral detail, especially if you already know the work fairly well. Voices are well placed and captured with vibrant immediacy and ample timbral profile. The acoustic is not maximally spacious, but neither does it sound like something recorded in a closet. It's a comfortable listening space.
None of those considerations would matter if the performance itself were not so dramatically powerful and historically important (this was one of many Verdi performances around the world to honor the golden anniversary of the composer's death). Furtwängler's tempos are sometimes broader than those of other conductors, but as always, they pulse with an inner life that commands full attention.
Paul Schöffler is not my favorite Iago: he sounds in less than optimal voice, and the evil chameleonic guile of this great villain generally eludes him. To be convincing, Iago needs every insinuating vocal color imaginable to pull off his schemes. Schöffler unfortunately sings mainly in grays. Nor does he seem to revel in his own machinations as much as a good Iago should.
Dragica Martinis turns in a deeply affecting Desdemona. While not without vocal flaws, she is sincerely committed to what she's doing and powerful enough to ride clearly and confidently over the massed forces of the grand Act 3 ensemble. I can imagine that some will find certain of her histrionic gestures over the top. To me they seemed a logical part of her conception of the character.
In many ways, hers is the saddest "Willow Song"/"Ave Maria" I've ever heard (her crowning A-flat in the "Ave Maria" is quietly devastating; not even Tebaldi -- who in the 1954 Erede recording gives us the Desdemona of Desdemonas -- creates the sense of threatened innocence with which Martinis infuses that glorious note: she sings it with a subtly controlled flutter [I do *not* read it as a technical flaw: it is too evenly emitted to be anything but an interpretive choice] that captures all the precarious emotion of the situation). In part, the effect comes from Furtwängler's slightly slower-than-usual pacing. But mainly, it derives from Martinis's total identification with Desdemona's impossible situation, her ability to navigate this character's most intimate waters with an unerring inner compass, and her gift for voicing everything with exceptional delicacy (her dynamics are remarkable in range and organic logic). In no other performance of this scene -- whether in context or in an aria recital -- have I heard a comparable sense of final resignation or the clear sense that Otello's false charges have begun to wear her down. I've gone into some detail about Martinis because I have so often read disparaging remarks about her performance. Admittedly, she will not suit all tastes. Nevertheless, I suspect that she has rarely been credited for trying to offer a different take on this role. For me, at least, it has been a deeply rewarding experience.
Ramón Vinay's Otello is as commanding as one would expect from earlier renditions. Remarkably, we have Vinay performing this role, live, with four major conductors: Arturo Toscanini (Dec. 1947, NBC broadcasts & rehearsals), Fritz Busch (Dec. 1948, Metropolitan Opera), Wilhelm Furtwängler (Aug. 1951, Salzburg [this recording]), and Sir Thomas Beecham (1958; out of print, alas). The three available performances are eminently worth having -- essential, in fact.
In the last analysis, Vinay's occasional minor vocal blemishes just don't matter: Vinay more than any other singer in my experience simply *is* Otello (I've not heard Martinelli's famous 1938 recording but hope to do so very soon). No other Otello dies more convincingly or distinctively than he does: in each performance, Vinay dies with heart-wrenching differences, without a trace of routine. You can feel him constantly exploring the role, living each moment afresh and offering varied and well-gauged nuances each time. That is the hallmark of a great artist. How fortunate we are to have this recording and its two companions to show us what that laurel of a phrase can most richly mean."
Same Exact Mastering as the EMI Edition
Mr. Fredric J. Einstein | 03/03/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I purchased this edition based on a couple of previous reviews of the Opera d'Oro set. The other reviews made me believe that this one might have had a superior mastering to the EMI set of the same performance (which I already own). And, it was only about [...] bucks, so I figured I'd take the gamble and perhaps get a version that derived from better master tapes than the EMI version. I can assure you that the Opera d'Oro set is sourced from EXACTLY the same tapes that EMI compiled and has IDENTICAL sound.
In EMI's well-written liner notes, it is noted that the Salzburg Festival always taped their opera productions with pretty superb sound. Unfortunately, the Salzburg masters of Othello were lost and EMI compiled this version from home-tapers and other miscallaneous sources to paste together a complete performance. They did an admirable job and the opera is quite listenable, although comes nowhere near the fidelity of other EMI recordings of "Furtwangler at Salzburg" from the same era (such as Der Freischutz etc). However, if you want a riveting performance of Othello, the cheap Opera d'Oro or the more elegantly packaged EMI versions are excellent choices."