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Giuseppe Verdi: Otello
Jonas Kaufmann (Otello), Federica Lombardi (Desdemona), Carlos Alvarez (Iago), Virginie Verrez (Emilia), Liparit Avetisyan (Cassio), Carlo Bosi (Roderigo), Riccardo Fassi (Lodovico), Fabrizio Beggi (Montano), Fian Paolo Fiocchi (a herald), Orchestra e Coro dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, Ciro Visco (chorus master), Antonio Pappano (conductor)
Recording: Auditorium Parco della Musica, Rome, Italy (June 24 – July 6, 2019) – 126’13
Sony Classical 886448058847 – Booklet in German, English and French

This new release is an almost proverbial “Tale of Two Gentlemen”, featuring the lives of Giuseppe Verdi and Jonas Kaufmann. Like train tracks, their steel rails are remarkably similar in an artistic acumen. Verdi was at his apex while Kaufmann patiently climbed his own “Mount Everest” by tackling this exceedingly difficult role after years of patience and vocal logic. Just as Verdi built his œuvres through “periods” and tuned his trade, he was also persnickety when it came to Otello in his prime. So too, did the Bavarian occasionally ‘test the waters’. Time had to be on his side. “Too soon”, was his reply, but the temptation was there, having been exposed to the dramma lirico back in 2001 when he sang Cassio at the Chicago Lyric Opera. Seven years later he would again return to the "Windy City” to tackle the less dense rôle of Des Grieux in Manon. His tenor repertoire has been slow and judicious as his maturity moved ahead. Reaching beyond this illustrious tenor are eight other phenomenal singers which carry beyond expected boundaries...it can be said that this CD has markings of a historical 21st century capture.

Verdi pointedly wrote about Otello and its exacting vocal techniques. Reading through these stipulations, Jonas Kaufmann listens, digests and acts as he sweeps each page with exquisitely generous servings of tonality and heft, discerning of the evolving emotions unfurling within this Shakepearean character. While singing Otello is nothing short of the immense challenge, Verdi would wholeheartedly approve!!

The ability to give a seasoning [to Otello] goes back in time when M. Kaufmann began singing Otello on June 21, 2017 at London’s Royal Opera House. Earlier, Jonas Kaufmann “tasted blood” after recording a Verdi album that included two scenes from the opera. The camaraderie with longtime supporter, Antonio Pappano, has been unshakable; hence, one of the many reasons for such a propitious outcome. Perhaps the lusciousness of this release has to do with the 14 sessions required to complete the full recording. Antonio Pappano is a consummate leader in perfection. Before each engagement he would manage to polish every conceivable detail in order to provide “an ultimate dramatic experience”. It succeeded tenfold. This scope of perspicuity helped sharpen the singers’ unblemished delivery.

Federica Lombardi is sublime as she fills her Desdemona with warmth and purity. With dramatic leaps frequently popping out, she leaves behind any harshness in the higher register. Suave. During Act II, she retains her veil of sweetness though the outrage surfaces, undaunted by Otello’s snowballing jealousy. But that tone quickly changes, and Mlle Lombardi is swiftly poised to control her mobile temperament. Nuanced on a more somber side has its striking moments as she woefully finesses “The Willow Song” with blanched solemnity. Even the “Ave Maria” speaks graciousness...we gasp for air...pathetic...a real tear jerker. Nowhere does Federica Lombardi overplay; therefore, the painful dulcet qualities become ever so penetrating.

Iago is supreme and conniving. Carlos Alvarez gives every note its own sense of appropriate friction, billowing upon gray clouds. Having listened to M. Alvarez over the years, this time his timbre is strikingly rich, arrogant and emblazoned with sinister tones. Without over aggression, the wind furls about with a viral-like pathogen in full suit. As the platoon leader, Liparit Avetisyan comfortably wraps himself around Cassio with pristine cadences and transparent clarity while Carlo Bosi’s light-toned gentilhomme vénitien, Rodrigo, broadcasts a firm message of immaturity and a hotly-ignited man who’s easily manipulated by Iago’s scurrilous ranges. When it comes to Virginie Verrez, she understates her Emilia as motherly protector and acts as the most supportive shield to Desdemona.

Led by Ciro Visco, the choral outreaches add to the immensity and dramatic planes. Another “feather in the cap” is the tempo which Antonio Pappano sets forth: in no way does it impede, languish, nor overconsume. Extremely well-attended.

Not enough can be said about the chemistry travelling both ways between voice and orchestra. In this case, there couldn’t be a more fitting match of personalities to assiduously absorb and wrap around every ounce of energy. Charismatic to the core, enthralling on all dimensions. This will go down in the annals of pristine Otello recordings.

Christie Grimstad




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