Possibly the best recording of Otello ever made - now in stunning XR sound
VERDI - Otello Ramón Vinay (Otello)
Herva Nelli (Desdemona)
Giuseppe Valdengo (Iago)
Virginio Assandri (Cassio)
Leslie Chabay (Roderigo)
Nicola Moscano (Lodovico)
Arthur Newman (Montàno)
Nan Merriman (Emilia) The NBC Symphony Orchestra and Choruses
conducted by Arturo Toscanini
A full CD-quality excerpt from this recording appears on the free FLAC download Pristine Classical - The 2009 Collection - click here for details
This recording, taken from two specially-lengthened broadcasts on 6th and 13th December, 1947, is widely regarded as perhaps the greatest ever made of Verdi's masterpiece, Otello. As NBC announcer Ben Grauer notes in his introduction to the first broadcast, it has a special link to Toscanini, who as a young cellist had played in the world première of the piece, under Verdi's baton, in La Scala, Milan on 5th February, 1887, some 60 years earlier.
Verdi is regarded by many as especially important to Toscanini, and this is among his greatest recordings - Mortimer Frank writes: "Of all the composers in Toscanini's repertory, Verdi was probably closest to him... what NBC preserved... if not necessarily representative of his staged performances or of his best work, is often compelling. Given limitations such as occasionally weak casting, they are uneven. Bet when everything more or less fell into place, as in the complete Otello, a performance of towering merit resulted."
Meanwhile we see in the notes on this work at Wikipedia: "most music-guide reviewers contend that a recording made of a 1947 radio broadcast of the opera, conducted with thrilling verve and precision by Arturo Toscanini and featuring such solid singers as Herva Nelli, Ramón Vinay and Giuseppe Valdengo, is musically (if not in terms of sound quality) the best of these versions".
For the restoration and remastering engineer tackling this recording today it is the phrase in paratheses above which is in sore need of justified removal. One discography of Toscanini lists sux separate releases of this recording, and I'm reasonably confident that there are actually more than this. Yet when I visited ardent Toscanini fan and collector Christophe Pizzutti earlier this year to take temporary charge of a large number of rare recordings for transfer and restoration, it was this recording he repeatedly pressed me to work upon, convinced that my XR remastering technique could finally reveal the full sonic magnificence of this immortal performance.
And so, with sources provided both by Christophe and by other collectors, I've endeavoured to assemble the very best quality material from which to assemble what I hope can be seen as a definitive recording of the two broadcasts (note that some recordings switch between live and rehearsal material, others include sections of severly reduced fidelity, none has had the benefit of XR re-equalisation and the latest remastering techniques associated with it).
The recording was made in the very end of the pre-tape era, and would have been preserved over a number of acetate discs. Fortunately these have been remarkably well-preserved in various incarnations, and the results of careful selections of the best possible sources and the magic of both XR remastering and Ambient Stereo processing (direct mono is of course also available) makes a huge impact on the final overall sound quality of the recording. This is one of Toscanini's greatest masterpieces, and it's never sounded better.
Technical notes by Andrew Rose
Verdi - Otello
notes from Wikipedia
Otello is an opera in four acts by Giuseppe Verdi to an Italian libretto by Arrigo Boito, based on Shakespeare's play Othello. It was Verdi's second to last opera and is considered by many to be his greatest. It was first performed at the Teatro alla Scala, Milan, on February 5, 1887.
Verdi's early retirement
After the completion and premiere of the opera Aida in 1871, Verdi decided that it was time for him to end his successful career as a composer of opera. Though he was easily the most popular, and possibly the wealthiest, composer in Italy during the time, Verdi, much as Rossini had done after the completion of the opera William Tell, retired from writing operas.
Ricordi and the plot to end Verdi's retirement
Because of the immense popularity of Verdi’s music in Italy by the 1870’s, Verdi’s retirement seemed to his publisher, Giulio Ricordi to be a waste of talent and possible profits. Thus a plot of a sort was hatched in order to coax the composer out of retirement to write another opera. Because of the importance of the dramatic aspects of opera to the composer, Verdi was especially selective of his libretti. Consequently, it was known that the in order for Verdi possibly to agree to create another opera after a decade of retirement, the libretto would need to be such to capture his interest. It was generally known that Verdi was an admiring fan of the dramatic works of Shakespeare and had, throughout his career, desired to create an opera based on a Shakespearian play. However, his one attempt at doing so, Macbeth (1847), was a comparative failure. Because of its relatively straightforward story, the play Othello was selected as a likely target.
Proposal and Arrigo Boito
Finally, after some plotting, Ricordi, in conjunction with Verdi’s friend, the conductor Franco Faccio, subtly introduced the idea of a new opera to Verdi. During a dinner at Verdi’s Milan residence during the summer of 1879, Ricordi and Faccio guided the conversation towards Shakespeare’s play Othello and to the librettist Arrigo Boito (whom Ricordi claimed to be a great fan of the play also). Suggestions were made, despite initial skepticism on the part of the composer, that Boito would be interested in creating a new libretto based upon the play. Within several days, Boito was brought to meet Verdi and present him with an outline of a libretto for an opera based on Othello. However, Verdi, still maintaining that his career had ended with the composition of Aida, made very little progress on the work. Nonetheless, collaborations with Boito in the revision of the earlier opera Simon Boccanegra helped to convince Verdi of Boito’s outstanding ability as a librettist. Finally, production began on the opera, which Verdi initially referred to as Iago.
Completion and production
As the Italian public became aware that the retired Verdi was composing another opera, rumors about it abounded. At the same time, many of the most illustrious conductors, singers and opera-house managers in Europe were vying for an opportunity to play a part in Otello 's premiere, despite the fact that Faccio and La Scala, Milan, had already been selected as the conductor and the venue for the first performance. The two male protagonists had been selected, too: Italy's foremost dramatic tenor, Francesco Tamagno, was to sing Otello while the esteemed French singing-actor Victor Maurel would assume the villainous baritone role of Iago.
Upon the completion of the opera, preparations for the initial performance were conducted in absolute secrecy and Verdi reserved the right to cancel the premiere up to the last minute. Verdi need not have worried: Otello 's debut proved to be a resounding success. The audience's enthusiasm for Verdi was shown by the 20 curtain calls that he took at the end of the opera. Further stagings of Otello soon followed at leading theatres throughout Europe and America.
Time: The late 1400s.
Place: A coastal city on the island of Cyprus.
In front of the castle, next to the harbor
On a stormy night, the people of Cyprus anxiously await the arrival of the new governor, Otello, from the battle with the Turks (Chorus, Montana, Cassio, Iago, Roderigo: Una vela! Una vela! - "A sail! Jubilation!"). Otello arrives safely and announces that the Turkish fleet has been destroyed, and the Cypriots cheer (Otello, chorus: Esultate! L’orgoglio musulmano / "Rejoice! The Mussulman's pride is buried in the sea").
Otello's ensign, Iago, offers to help a young Venetian gentleman Roderigo in his seduction of Othello's wife Desdemona, because he (Iago) wants revenge against the Moor (Iago, Roderigo: Roderigo, ebben che pensi? / "Well, Roderigo, what are you thinking?"). Otello has appointed Cassio to be the captain of the navy, a position that Iago hoped to have. The people of Cyprus celebrate the navy's safe return by lighting a bonfire (Chorus: Fuoco di gioia! / "Fire of joy").
In the tavern, Iago proposes a toast to Otello and his wife, while Cassio fulsomely praises Desdemona (Iago, Cassio, Chorus, Roderigo: Roderigo, beviam! / "Roderigo, let's drink!"). Iago offers Cassio wine, but Cassio says he has had enough. Iago pressures him, and when Iago offers a toast to Otello and Desdemona, Cassio gives in. Iago sings a drinking song and continues to pour Cassio wine (Iago, Cassio, Roderigo, chorus: Inaffia l'ugola! / "Wet your throat").
Montano enters and calls for Cassio to begin his watch, but he is surprised to find Cassio drunk and barely able to stand upright. To Montano's surprise, Iago explains that this is how Cassio spends every evening. Roderigo laughs at Cassio's drunkenness and Cassio attacks him. Montano tells Cassio to refrain, but Cassio draws his sword and threatens to crack open Montano's head (Montano, Cassio, Iago, Roderigo, chorus: Capitano, v’attende la fazione ai baluardi / "Captain, the guard awaits you on the ramparts"). Cassio and Montano begin to duel, and Iago sends Roderigo to call the alarm. Cassio wounds Montano as Otello enters and orders them to lower their swords.
Otello asks "honest Iago" to explain how the duel began, but Iago says he doesn't know. Otello then turns to Cassio, who feels embarrassed and cannot excuse his actions. When Otello discovers that Montano is wounded, he becomes enraged. Desdemona enters, and, upon seeing that his bride's rest has been disturbed, Otello declares that Cassio is no longer Captain (Otello, Iago, Cassio, Montano: Abbasso le spade / "Down with your swords").
The Cypriots leave Otello alone with Desdemona. Together Otello and Desdemona recall why they fell in love. They kiss and then walk back to the castle (Otello, Desdemona: Gia nella notte densa / "Already in the dense night").
Inside the castle, a chamber next to the garden
Iago suggests Cassio should ask Desdemona to talk to Otello about his demotion, because Desdemona can influence her husband to reinstate him (Iago, Cassio: Non ti crucciar / "Do not fret. If you trust in me..."). Desdemona and Emilia enter, and Cassio begins to plead with Desdemona. Iago watches them and proclaims his evil Credo (Credo in un Dio crudel / "I believe in a cruel God").
Otello enters; Iago, pretending not to notice him, says that he is deeply troubled. Otello asks what's wrong, and Iago responds by giving vague answers. Finally he hints that Cassio and Desdemona are having an affair. Otello feels himself becoming jealous, but he wants proof of Desdemona's betrayal first (Iago, Otello: Cio m’accora.. che parli? / "I like not that").
A crowd of children, sailors, and Cypriots encircles Desdemona, praising her beauty and purity (Chorus, Iago, children, Desdemona, Otello: Dove guardi splendono raggi / "Where'er you look, brightness shines..."). They leave her gifts and wish her happiness before leaving.
Desdemona carries Cassio's request for reinstatement to Otello. Otello sourly tells her to ask him another time, and says he has a headache. Desdemona wraps his head in a handkerchief Otello once gave her, linen embroidered with strawberries. Otello throws it to the ground and says he doesn't need it (Desdemona, Otello: D'un uom che geme sotto il tuo disdegno / "I bring a petition from who suffers under your displeasure"). Emilia picks up the handkerchief. Desdemona asks for Otello's forgiveness. Aside, Iago demands that Emilia give him the handkerchief. When she refuses, Iago takes it from her.
Otello dismisses the others, and sings that he now believes that Desdemona may be deceiving him (Otello: Ora è per sempre addio / "Now and forever farewell, holy memories"). Iago returns, and the jealous Otello demands proof of Desdemona's infidelity. Iago says that once, when he and Cassio were sleeping in the same room, he heard Cassio talking to Desdemona in a dream. In the dream, says Iago, Cassio told Desdemona that they must be careful to conceal their love (Iago: Era la notte, Cassio dormia / "It was night, Cassio was sleeping"). Iago says that dreams don't prove anything, but remarks that he saw Cassio carrying Desdemona's strawberry-embroidered handkerchief just the day before. Together, Otello and Iago swear vengeance on Desdemona (Otello, Iago: Sì, pel ciel marmoreo giuro / "Yes, by the marble heavens I swear").
The great hall of the castle. A small hall next to the great hall.
Iago explains to Otello that he will lure Cassio here and talk with him while Otello watches, hidden. He leaves to go get Cassio (Iago: Qui trarrò Cassio... / "Here I will bring Casio and lead him on to gossip").
Desdemona enters and reminds Otello of Cassio's request. Otello says that he still has a headache, and asks her to wrap her handkerchief around his head. When Desdemona produces a different handkerchief, Otello demands the one with strawberries. When she says she does not have it, Otello says that it was a talisman, and troubles will befall her if she loses it. Desdemona says that he is trying to ignore Cassio's plea, and as she asks him about Cassio, he demands the handkerchief ever more insistently (Desdemona, Otello: Dio ti giocondi, o sposo / "God keep you merry, husband..."). Desdemona protests that she is faithful; Otello sends her away (Desdemona, Otello: Esterrefatta fisso/ "Terrified, I face your terrible look").
Otello laments his fate (Dio! mi potevi scagliar tutti I mali / "God, you could have lashed at me" ) when Iago calls out "Cassio is here!" Otello hides as Iago and Cassio enter. Cassio says he had hoped to see Desdemona here, for he wanted to know whether she had been successful with Otello (Iago, Cassio, Otello: Vieni; l’aula e deserta / "Come, the hall is deserted"). Iago asks him to tell of his adventures with that woman. Cassio asks which woman, and, softly, so that Otello cannot hear, Iago says "Bianca" (the name of Cassio's real-life lover). Cassio laughs about his romantic adventures; Otello assumes he is talking about Desdemona. Iago also shows that Cassio has the strawberry-embroidered handkerchief, which Iago had previously hidden in Cassio's house (Iago, Cassio, Otello: Questa e una ragna / "This is a spider's web").
Bugles sound, announcing the arrival of the Venetian ambassador. Iago warns Cassio that he should leave unless he wants to see Otello. Cassio exits, and Otello determines to kill his wife by suffocating her in her bed, while Iago will take care of Cassio.
Lodovico, Desdemona, Emilia, Roderigo, and other dignitaries enter, noting Cassio's absence. Iago tells him that Cassio is out of favor, and Desdemona says that he will soon be restored. Iago explains to the puzzled Lodovico that perhaps Cassio's restoration is her wish. Desdemona says that it is, for she has quite an affection for him. Otello calls her a demon and almost strikes her violently but held by Lodovico. Otello then calls for Cassio (Lodovico, Otello, Desdemona, Emilia, Iago, chorus: Il Doge ed il Senato salutano / "The Doge and the Senate greet the triumphant hero"). Cassio enters and Otello reads a letter from the Doge, announcing that he (Otello) has been called back to Venice and Cassio is the new Duke of Cyprus. Enraged, Otello throws Desdemona to the ground (Otello, Roderigo, Iago, Cassio, Lodovico: Messeri!... Il Doge... / "Gentlemen! The Doge..." )
Desdemona on the ground, laments (A terra! … sì … nel livido fango / "Fallen! Yes, in the leaden dust..."). Emilia and Lodovico comfort Desdemona. Aside, Iago tells Otello that tonight is the night to take revenge. Iago then secretly tells Roderigo that the only way to prevent Desdemona from leaving is for the new Duke to die, and arranges for Roderigo to kill Cassio that night. Otello orders everyone to leave. Desdemona goes to comfort him, but Lodovico drags her away as Otello curses her (Emilia, Cassio, Desdemona, Roderigo, Lodovico, Iago, Otello, chorus: Quell’innocente un fremito / "This innocent one is without feeling or gesture of hatred..."). Otello raves about the handkerchief, then collapses. Iago presses Otello's forehead with his heel, then walks away. Outside the crowd of Cypriots calls out victory and glory for Otello (Otello, Desdemona, Emilia, Cassio, Roderigo, Lodovico, Iago, chorus: Fuggite! / "Begone").
Desdemona's chamber. A lit lamp in front of an image of the Virgin Mary.
Desdemona and Emilia are preparing for bed. Desdemona asks Emilia to put out the bridal gown she used on her wedding day, and says that if she dies, she wants to be buried in it. Emilia tells not to talk about such things. Desdemona recalls how her mother had a servant named Barbara, who fell in love with a man but went mad when he left her (Desdemona: Mia madre aveva una povera ancella / "Willow Song") ; (Desdemona, Emilia: Piangea cantando nell’erma landa / "Singing, she wept on the lonely hearth"). After Emilia leaves, Desdemona prays (Ave Maria) and then falls asleep.
Silently, Otello enters, with a sword. He kisses his wife three times; she awakens. Otello asks her if she has prayed tonight, because he does not want to kill her soul. She asks God for mercy, both for her and for Otello. Otello accuses her of sin, saying that he must kill her because she loves Cassio. Desdemona denies it and asks that he summon Cassio on her behalf. Otello says that Cassio is already dead. Desdemona pleads for mercy, but Otello tells her it's too late for that and strangles her (Otello, Desdemona: Diceste questa sera le vostre preci/ "Have you prayed tonight?").
Emilia knocks at the door, announcing that Cassio has killed Roderigo. Desdemona softly calls out that she has been unjustly accused, and then dies. Emilia calls Otello a murderer; he retorts that Iago gave him proof of Desdemona's infidelity. Otello begins to threaten Emilia, who calls for help. Iago, Cassio, and Lodovico enter. Emilia demands that Iago deny Otello's accusation; he refuses. Otello says that the handkerchief Desdemona gave to Cassio is proof enough. Emilia, horrified, explains that Iago had stolen the handkerchief; Cassio corroborates her story. Montano enters and says that Roderigo, with his dying breath, has revealed Iago's plan. Iago, brandishing his sword, runs away (Emilia, Otello, Desdemona, Cassio, Iago, Lodovico, Montano: Aprite! Aprite! / "Open up!").
After he realizes what has happened, Otello grieves over Desdemona's death. He then draws a dagger from his robe and stabs himself. Others try to stop him but it is too late. Before he dies, he drags himself next to his wife and kisses her. He lies dead next to Desdemona (Otello, Cassio, Lodovico, Montano: Niun mi tema / "That none fear me").
Critical evaluation of the opera
Most commentators and musicologists consider Otello to be Verdi's greatest, most mature opera. In it, he tried to do away with the traditional recitative-aria structure of opera, much as Richard Wagner had done, except that in some cases, the distinction between recitative and aria is more clearcut in Otello than in any of Wagner's operas. Nonetheless, the flow between the set pieces is much smoother than in any of Verdi's earlier works. Verdi's librettist, Arrigo Boito, was extremely faithful to Shakespeare's original play, though Act 1 of the drama (everything having to do with Brabantio, Desdemona's father) was omitted and the other scenes were condensed in length. The roles of Otello (Othello) and Iago are among the most fully developed in all of opera, as much so as in Shakespeare's original drama - especially the character of Otello himself. (Iago is much more a standard villain in the opera than in the play). Verdi's orchestral writing in Otello is more highly developed than in any of Verdi's previous masterpieces. Whereas in the orchestra served as little more than an accompaniment to the singing in his earlier works, in Otello, the orchestra plays a major part in conveying the events of the opera. It is used to portray the depth of the evil of Iago (an evil possibly only rivaled by that of Scarpia in Puccini's Tosca).
Notes on the 24-bit download: Please see this page for test files and further information regarding this format. Although restoration work is done at a sample rate of 44.1kHz, we have upsampled the final 24-bit master to 48kHz for additional replay compatibility of our FLAC download. This 24-bit version is NOT suitable for transfer to audio CD.
Our twenty-four bit FLAC downloads can be replayed in full quality using a standard DVD video player, a DVD writer and an inexpensive piece of PC software - see here for more information about replay from Video DVD discs.