Otello (1966)

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(1966). 134m. Windgassen, Jurinac, Mittelmann, Dallapozza, Blankenship; Quadri; Schenk, dir. Sung in German. B&W

What is more important in an Otello, voice or introspective insight?

Windgassen is primarily a vocal actor. His Otello is at an opposite pole from Del Monaco’s. Windgassen is an art divo, Del Monaco a voice divo. Del Monaco satisfies through voice, Windgassen through feeling (even if his voice sometimes seems to get stuck in his nose). He is vulnerable and warmer, with an expressive face. Del Monaco’s tones are so darkened and so often covered that they lack variety. From one moment to the next Windgassen is more communicative, with a more subtle tonal palette. Del Monaco has more impact in Otello’s explosive moments, but much of the part is introspective.

In the Act I duet Windgassen expresses tender sorrow even on the high A-flats at the end, where he doesn’t need to cover. At the opening of the recitative to “Ora e per sempre addio,” he gives a spinal chill where no one else does. Windgassen’s Otello is obsessive and sung with heartbreak. He has great pathos in “Dio mi potevi”–my favorite version–and “Niun mi tema.” His is the most moving tenor death scene on video. His grief is the deepest. He oozes suffering.

Windgassen’s physical acting is as compelling as his singing. His eyes are incredibly expressive–note the way they go dull as he dies. His is a presence that compels you to pay heed at every moment.

Compared to Vickers in the Karajan film or in the Serafin recording, Windgassen has more variety of tone color and his colorations are more interesting because he sings primarily with head resonance, something Vickers does only when he croons, in which case he is monochrome. Windgassen’s humanity is more intense and he has more charisma. Vickers typically makes a crescendo and decrescendo on every note and doesn’t connect syllables, so legato for him is usually impossible. Even though Windgassen is singing in German, his legato is better.

Windgassen sounds like he’s going crazy and can’t purge himself of his thoughts. He’s a trapped animal, helpless. The storm rages inside him. He’s tortured. His brain can’t ease his pain.

His Otello is a reference point.–Stefan Zucker