Academic journal article ARSC Journal

Verdi: Otello

Academic journal article ARSC Journal

Verdi: Otello

Article excerpt

Verdi: Otello. Ramon Vinay (Otello), Paul Schoffler (Iago), Dragica (Carla) Martinis (Desdemona), Anton Dermota (Cassio), August Jaresch (Roderigo), Josef Greindl (Lodovico), Georg Monthy (Montano), Franz Bierbach (Un Araldo), Sieglinde Wagner (Emilia). Vienna State Opera Chorus and Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Wilhelm Furtwangler (Recorded live at the Salzburg Festival 7 August 1951). Orfeo D'Or C 880 132 1(2 CDs).

In the mid-1990s the Salzburg Festival began authorizing editions of live performances in a "Festspieldokumente" series, all bearing the official "Salzburger Festspiele" logo. The releases have involved several CD labels, including Orfeo, EMI, Deutsche Grammophon and Sony Classical, the latter three concentrating on conductors they had under contract during the times the performances took place. In general, these "official" releases offer sound quality superior to the many bootleg editions that have circulated on LP and CD, drawing on primary sources from the Austrian Radio archives and the best possible off-the-air sources when in-house radio recordings no longer exist. The DG releases in this series include performances by Herbert von Karajan and Karl Bdhm while Sony's feature Dimitri Mitropoulos and George Szell. EMI has issued several performances by Wilhelm Furtwangler, including Beethoven's Fidelio from 1950 (CHS 7 649012), Verdi's Otello from 1951 (CHS 5 657512), and three Mozart operas including Le nozze di Figaro from 1953 (CHS 5 660802), Don Giovanni from 1950 (CHS 5 665672), and Die Zauberflote from 1951 (CHS 5 653562). More recently, those releases have been complemented by Orfeo editions of the 1949 Die Zauberflote (C650053D) and 1953 Don Giovanni (C624043D). EMI's 1991 CD edition of the 1954 Don Giovanni (CHS 7 638602) was not part of the Festspieldokumente series.

Orfeo's new edition of the 1951 Otello is the second remastering of that performance to be offered in the Festspieldokumente series and the only case where a second attempt has been made on a previously released performance. The Verdi centennial aside, there was good reason for doing so. EMI's 1995 transfer was badly equalized, with little or no bass and a screechy upper mid-range, and the AM radio source was plagued by gain-riding, dynamic compression and distortion. Gottfried Krauss and Othmar Eichinger were responsible for remastering both the EMI and the new Orfeo editions, and they have taken a completely fresh approach to the restoration of the off-the-air sources. The Orfeo edition is a considerable improvement over its predecessor. The upper bass has been boosted, adding much-needed warmth to the recording, and the upper midrange has been equalized far more naturally, reducing the inherent distortion along the way. The dynamics are also improved, though the crunch at the downbeat of the first full measure, found on every edition of this performance that I have heard, remains. There is no way that the original source tapes could be turned into early '50s high fidelity, but the Orfeo edition is much more listenable than the EMI.

Otello is the only opera by an Italian composer that Furtwangler performed as a mature conductor, hence the only one in his discography. However, the performance chronology included in Tahra's Furtwangler: In Memoriam collection (FURT 1090-1093, plus CD-Rom) reveals that prior to being appointed conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic in 1922, his repertoire included Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore, Rossini's II barbiere di Siviglia, plus Verdi's Rigoletto, Aida and Otello. When he conducted Otello at the Salzburg Festival in 1951, he had not performed the work in thirty-two years--his last performance had been in Mannheim in 1919. During the first half of the 20th Century, German opera houses invariably performed Italian operas in the vernacular, so it is highly likely that the 1951 Salzburg performances of Otello were Furtwangler's only performances of Verdi given in Italian (he was invited to repeat Otello for the 1952 festival, but illness prevented his appearance; he was replaced by Mario Rossi). …

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