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Subject: Spectacular 1958 Met Otello (not the del los Angeles one)
From: "Max D. Winter" <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Max D. Winter
Date:Fri, 8 Sep 2017 12:58:31 -0400

text/plain (82 lines)

The past couple of weeks I have been doing an enjoyable listening survey of Met broadcasts 
of "Otello," starting with the 1938 Panizza/Martinelli performance.  Without going into detail 
(I have already posted on the 1952 performance with Steber and Vinay), I will say that, for 
the most part, the Met has done this great opera proud in broadcast performances over the 
years (at least up until 1980 or so).

I have long known the Mar. 12, 1955 broadcast with Del Monaco, Tebaldi and Warren, 
conducted by Fritz Stiedry, Tebaldi's first outing on the Texaco airwaves.  And also the 
famous Mar. 8, 1958 broadcast with the same two men and Victoria de los Angeles, which is 
likewise great.  But it had escaped my attention until last week that there was another 1958 
broadcast, of Dec. 20, also with Del Monaco, Tebaldi and Warren, conducted by Fausto 
Cleva.  It is, over all, an overwhelming performance, with all three principals in fantastic 
voice and very good conducting by Cleva.  Frankly, I'm surprised that the Met did not issue 
this performance instead of the DelM/DLA from the previous March in its Historic Broadcast 

What makes this performance really special is the dramatic commitment of everyone 
involved.  They are all totally involved with the music, the text and with each other.  The 
whole afternoon is touched with a bit of "divine fire."

This is the greatest performance of "Otello" I have every heard from Del Monaco, and one of 
the greatest by any singer I have heard, live or on recording.  DM's Otello was always 
something remarkable, with its clarion, Italianate ring and superb diction.  But it has usually 
struck me as a bit "shouty," with a lot of yelling and ranting.  Exciting, certainly, but not 
exactly subtle.  He has always thrilled, but rarely moved me (unlike, say, Vinay or 
Martinelli).  Not this afternoon.  DM takes a much more gentle and even refined approach to 
the role, with some beautiful mezza voce singing and some high diminuendos that Corelli 
would have envied.  "Delicacy" is not a word I associate with DM's singing, generally, but it 
applies to much of his singing in this performance.  And, of course, there is the usual brassy 
thrill at the climaxes.  Dramatically, he is totally involved and gives a performance that is at 
times heartbreaking.  (I was near tears during "Dio, mi potevi" and "Niun mi tema.")  

Tebaldi is in fantastic voice as well.  Her singing in opening of the first act duet is so light 
and airy that at first it did not sound like her; the usual flood of rich tone came later in the 
duet, and it was all the more effective because of the virginal quality of her opening 
phrases.  Throughout the performance her voice soars, even in scale from top to bottom, 
with beautiful high notes and, with one notable exception, impeccable intonation (this last 
not always a consistent feature of Tebaldi performances even this early in her career).  The 
exception, unfortunately, is the last note of the "Ave Maria," a perfectly sustained pianissimo 
that is, alas, about a quarter-tone flat.  (The audience bursts into applause anyway.)

Leonard Warren sang Iago in every broadcast of "Otello" (8 of them) from 1946 through 
1958, a remarkable record and one which shows the esteem in which he was held in this 
part by public and management alike.  Vocally he was always superb, but dramatically he 
had a tendency to indulge in some melodramatic hamminess.  This afternoon, however, 
there is no ham on the table, and Warren projects a subtle malevolence throughout.  (The 
simple descending phrase in Act III, "Forse che in grazia tornera," has surface good will but 
an underlying oily menace.)  All afternoon Warren's mezza voce is extraordinary; "Era la 
notte" is hypnotic.  At the same time, he roars magnificently in the drinking song and, 
especially, in the Credo.  Hearing Warren makes one realize how vocally compromised and 
lacking in subtlety and finesse is our current crop of Iagos ("Iaghi?").  

Warren's performance also reminds one that in opera, it is the VOICE that is the primary 
vehicle for communicating the drama, not "acting" that looks good on camera.  (I'm 
thinking of the Iago in the ROH performance of "Otello" with Kaufmann that I saw several 
weeks ago.  Very well acted for the screen, certainly, but if you shut your eyes and just 
listened, it was an interpretive blank.)    

In the smaller roles, Paul Franke's Cassio is outstanding, and Martha Lipton's Emilia is very 
good.  Calvin Marsh makes one sit up with his brief lines as the Herald in Act III. 
Fausto Cleva's conducting is very good - not great, but it does not compromise the fantastic 
performances from the singers.  Unfortunately, things get off to a rocky start with a rough-
and-tumble storm scene.  The solo trumpet at the beginning misses his first entrance 
completely and on the second sounds like a Mariachi player.  The chorus is rather coarse as 
well.  But once past Del Monaco's magnificent "Esultate!" things settle down and the 
orchestra and chorus are excellent.


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