Verdi loved Shakespeare and tried to reflect the psychological depth of his characters in the operas he based on the bard. You really wouldn’t know that watching the 2008 Salzburg Festival production of Otello. There’s a lot to like in both production and performance but the emotionally monochromatic performance of the title role by Aleksandrs Antonenko, who can do every mood from fairly grumpy to furious, and the moustache twirling Jago of Carlos Álvarez rather reduce the piece to pathologically jealous nutter with anger management problem kills wife.
It really is a bit of a shame because there are some very good things on this disk. Stephen Langridge’s production is lively and he uses the chorus and dancers well though some may consider the celebrations in Act 1 a bit over the top. I don’t think there are any big ideas and it’s a bit heavy on Catholic kitsch but it’s interesting to look at and allows space for the performers to develop their characters. Marina Poplavskaya as Desdemona and Stephen Costello as Cassio do this very well and if Otello and Jago had been as well realised this would be pretty good. The singing too is a bit of a mixed bag. Antonenko is suitably heroic of tone but again only seems to have one gear. Poplavskaya is sweet toned and engaging, especially in her big Act 4 numbers. I know some people find her voice “reedy” but it sounds fine to me here. Nice work from Costello and Álvarez too. Riccardo Muti gets a thrilling reading of the score from the Wiener Philharmoniker. This aspect is red blooded Verdi at its best.
The video direction, by Peter Schönhoffer is not very good at all. I think Langridge is going for the “epic” look, as well he might, in the Grosses Festspielhaus but Schönhoffer is almost relentless in his use of close ups. It doesn’t help that besides only one vocal register and only one dramatic register, Antonenko has only one facial expression; “glower”. On DVD the picture and Dolby surround sound are excellent and may be even better on Blu-ray. There’s a ten minute bonus track on the disk but it’s really just a spoken synopsis. The booklet also has a synopsis as well as a track listing. Subtitle options are Italian, English, German, French,Spanish, Korean, Chinese and Japanese.