This new studio recording of Verdi's Otello has been keenly anticipated. Even in a strongly competitive field including unforgettable performances led by Toscanini, Levine and Muti, it will doubtless rank as a front-line contender.
Its primary focus of interest is Jonas Kaufmann, who takes the taxing title-role in the wake of Placido Domingo, who sang Otello in opera houses over 200 times, and who has bequeathed us several audio and video versions of his interpretation.
Kaufmann’s reading is not altogether unlike Domingo’s in emphasizing the character’s nobility. His tone is rock-solid, diction is precise, and a scrupulous and sensitive musicality makes the monologues "Dio mi potevi scagliar" and "Niun mi tema" particularly moving. Nothing is vulgar, and none of the notes are shirked, even in the killingly difficult trumpet call of "Esultate". What is perhaps lacking –because you can’t have everything – is a sense of the unleashed wild animal that Mario del Monaco and Jon Vickers brought to the cry of "sangue, sangue!" at the climax of Act 2, or the intense despair with which they invested "Ora e per sempre addio". Kaufmann’s Otello never loses his dignity or poise.
There is much buzz in the business about the young Italian soprano Federica Lombardi, who makes an impressive debut here as Desdemona. Hers is a naturally lovely voice and she phrases with instinctive feeling, making for a richly melancholy Willow Song. One just wishes she had made a bit more of her words – there are moments when consonants vanish altogether. A point of comparison might be Renato Scotto’s 1978 recording – exemplary of the depth of meaning that can be inflected into the text in "Esterrefatto fisso".
Carlos Alvarez is a crisply malign Iago, all too insidiously plausible in "Era la notte", and Liparit Avetisyan presents a sweetly ingenuous Cassio. The chorus and orchestra of the Accademia di Santa Cecilia sound fired up by Antonio Pappano’s conducting – his tempi are generally fast and always alert. The thunderstorm and cannon of the opening scene are thrillingly realised and the big Act 3 ensemble, so difficult to clarify between the different voices, is as clear as a bell. Altogether a splendid achievement.
Otello is released by Sony Records