Saturday, September 25, 2010

Sunday Classics digression: And now for the MOST beautiful curtain-lowerer


In this concert performance, Plácido Domingo and Renée Fleming sing the great Act I-ending duet from Verdi's Otello, in 1998. Yes, the intro has been lopped off (presumably for YouTube time-limit reasons; well, we're going to hear it below, twice), and the audio and video are both so-so, and the clip is out of sync, and oh yes, since it is a concert performance, there's no curtain to come down. Oh well. On the plus side, the clip has subtitles.

by Ken

In last night's preview I said that I would probably rate the Frau ohne Schatten Act I finale the second most beautiful curtain-lowerer in the operatic canon? I don't think there can really be much question about the No. 1 spot.

VERDI: Otello: Act I, "Già nella notte densa" (Love Duet)

There's a lot to talk about in this, surely the most astonishing love duet ever put to music (thanks in no small part to Arrigo Boito's brilliant libretto), but that will have to wait to another time. If you just want to hear the issue at point, the most beautiful musical curtain-loweirng I know, feel free to skip ahead to about 7:35 of the Pavarotti-Te Kanawa-Solti performance, or 9:18 of the Vickers-Freni-Karajan.

And yes, as those time cues suggest, one of these performances is often distinctly more gradual than the other. You'll hear a startling difference right away in the opening cello solo, Solti going for a very different effect before broadening the tempo for the cello-quartet intro proper. I chose these are two very pretty performances, by the way, partly because (a) they are very pretty as well as distinctly different performances and partly because (b) the CD editions have the entire duet in a single track and, more important, the track starts at the obvious point: the cello solo that leads to the cello quartet that leads to Otello's first line, "Già nella notte densa." I am startled to see that the common thing on modern CDs is to tack all this cello noodling onto the previous track and put the new track point at the tenor's entrance on "Giá nell notte." Unbelievable!

Let me just say of the Solti-Chicago Symphony Otello recording that I'm one of the few quasi-serious people I know who actually likes it -- yes, including Signor Luciano's performance of the title role, from a time by which I had lost most of my good feeling for him. I don't know that Otello would have been a workable stage role for him -- he doesn't seem to have thought so, never singing it except in the concert performances from which the recording was produced -- but I think that on records it rather works.

[Note: You'll find a complete Italian-English libretto of the opera online here. Just scroll down to Scene 3.]

Luciano Pavarotti (t), Otello; Kiri Te Kanawa (s), Desdemona; Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Sir Georg Solti, cond. Decca, recorded live, April 1991

The following performance seemed to me a tad too languorous to stand on its own tonight (it runs almost a minute and three-quarters longer than than the above recording), but it is nevertheless an awfully beautiful performance of this sublime music.

Jon Vickers (t), Otello; Mirella Freni (s), Desdemona; Vienna Philharmonic, Herbert von Karajan, cond. Live performance from the Salzburg Festival, July 30, 1971


Back to the troubled relationship of Barak the Dyer and his wife in Die Frau ohne Schatten.

Labels: , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home