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Where Riccardo Muti´s operatives in Brahms seemed to be piano, forte and fortissimo, for his Otello he skipped the piano and immediately pushed everyone back in their seats with the initial chords. I don´t remember having ever heard such loud orchestra playing. And he is impeccably precise as well. Which, of course is vastly preferably to being vague, restrained and imprecise. But what about all the details and subtleness in Verdi´s score? With Riccardo Muti I failed to hear them, though I did not think he overpowered the singers to an unreasonable degree. After all this is not exclusively a singers opera.
Upon repeated listening or listening to the radio broadcasts, I am not surprised that some find the conducting loud, square and to a certain extent, superficial. But in the theater you were blown away by the sheer force and intensity.
Riccardo Muti allegedly was in charge of all aspects of this production including the hiring of the singers. And despite a commendable effort Aleksandr Antonenko is vastly overchallenged as Otello, despite a fine start. His top notes gradually disappeared through the acts, though he keeps up his acting until the end. The problem, of course, is that a great performance of Otello ultimately depends on a great Otello..
Carlos Àlvarez is solid as Iago, if ultimately not particularly memorable. Maria Luigia Borsi, previously unknown to me, was Desdemona in her only scheduled performance (the rest were sung by Marina Poplavskaya). She was simply superb, with excellent floating high notes and pianissimi as well as engaged acting and deservedly recieved the biggest ovation from the audience. Stephen Costello both looked and sang exactly as I imagine Cassio would have done.
Of Stephen Langridge´s staging I am not so uniformly negative as the majority of reviewers seem to have been. While the detailed personal instruction and ultimately the drama is rather absent, I find the sets entirely adequate for a quasi-modern Otello - wooden, square and simple, thematically based on fire and water (photographs here). An appropriately neutral background to allow the music to shine. The not unlikely reason Riccardo Muti hired him, after all he is the star conductor of Salzburg this season, is he not?
The bottom line (scale of 1-5, 3=average):
Aleksandrs Antonenko: 3
Maria Luigia Borsi: 4
Carlos Àlvarez: 3
Stephen Costello: 3-4
Stephen Langridge´s production: 3
Riccardo Muti with the Vienna Philharmonics: 4
Overall impression: 3