Album Review: Verdi Otello

By William Dart

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Verdi's  Otello . Photo / Supplied
Verdi's Otello . Photo / Supplied

Rating: 4/5
Verdict: Kiwi tenor supremo takes the Heldentenor trail to Verdi's Venice.

The successes of New Zealand tenor Simon O'Neill on the opera stages and concert halls of the world continue apace.

Best of all, back home, we are not dependent on reading the plaudits of Europe's critics; we can experience O'Neill's persuasive artistry for ourselves on DVD and CD.

Who could resist the New Zealander's stirring Siegmund, singing at Ravello in 2008, alongside Waltraud Meier and John Tomlinson in Daniel Barenboim's take on Die Walkure, a performance regularly programmed on the Arts Channel?

The latest O'Neill triumph, recorded from a number of concert performances of Otello at the Barbican Centre last December, finds the tenor melding Wagnerian heft and Verdian lyricism in the Italian composer's penultimate masterpiece.

The release itself, on LSO Live, cements just how valuable the London Symphony Orchestra's own label has become in its 10 years of existence.

Particularly here, as octogenarian conductor Sir Colin Davis undertakes his third Verdi excursion with the orchestra.

Davis has the vitality of a maestro a quarter of his age, very apparent in the lashing storm music of the opera's opening scene. And although he revels in the earthier moments, reminding me of his classic Berlioz outings of the 1960s, he takes infinite care with shaping some of the composer's most subtle scoring around the singers.

The string playing, in key moments, is of a quality and resonance not always heard from the opera house pit.

O'Neill is the total Otello, from the full flurry of martial victory at the beginning of the work to the heartwrenching desolation of the opera's final scene. His Act III cat-and-mouse game with Desdemona is especially chilling.

If Anne Schwanewilms' Desdemona is the weak link, with some extremely sorry intonation problems, particularly in the first two acts, Gerald Finley's Iago is the embodiment of all evil.

Early on, Finley's great Credo aria comes up with a predictable few minutes of terror, inspiring Davis and the LSO to some brilliant pyrotechnics, but the way in which the Canadian works with the other characters about him, particularly O'Neill's eternally trusting hero, is what opera and drama are all about.

- NZ Herald

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