VERDI Otello (Foster)
Nikolai Schukoff is Austrian, Melody Moore and Lester Lynch are from the United States. Their names might be unfamiliar but greatness is surely around the corner, for among modern interpretations of Otello these must rank among the best. Melody Moore is a warm, womanly Desdemona. She floats a lovely ‘Amen risponda’ – dolcissime, as Verdi asks – in the love duet. She manages not to wheedle over-much when pleading for Cassio, before protesting her innocence with dignity; come the passage about weeping – ‘Guarda le prime lagrime’ – she pours out her sorrow in one glorious, passionate phrase. There’s no shrieking at ‘Ah! Emilia, addio!’, just a sense of loneliness and despair. Lester Lynch can’t quite hit the top As in Iago’s drinking song but he delivers a very respectable trill earlier on, when recounting his jealousy of Cassio. His powerful ‘Credo’ is not enhanced by the maniacal laughter that follows. If his relating of Cassio’s dream is prosaic, elsewhere his scheming is all too plausible.
Nikolai Schukoff is rather too free with the rhythm at Otello’s entrance, after which his performance is exemplary. The baritonal quality of his voice is ideally suited to the role and he shapes the music sensitively: the beautifully phrased ‘la gloria, il paradiso’ in the love duet finds an echo in ‘spento è il sol, quell sorriso …’ in the great monologue in Act 3. Schukoff rightly delivers the start of that monologue, ‘Dio! mi potevi scagliar’ as a whisper; and, unlike most other interpreters on record, he accentuates the opening phrase correctly. His whole performance is an impressive portrayal of a noble warrior brought low. The other parts are well taken, including a resonant Lodovico from Kevin Short.
The Gulbenkian Orchestra and Chorus are splendid, though the latter is rather backwardly recorded. Lawrence Foster is good on detail, such as the chromatic trumpet phrase at Shakespeare’s ‘imminent deadly breach’, and the strings’ hairpin dynamics in the lively, tense passage as Iago observes Cassio’s fateful approach to Desdemona. The only blot on an outstanding performance is the speeding-up in the orchestral postlude to the duet for Otello and Iago at the end of Act 2. It’s not serious, of course, but the effect is so much better when the tempo – steady, as it is here – of ‘Si, pel ciel’ is maintained. Otherwise, this is a notable achievement.