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Giuseppe VERDI (1813 – 1901)
Otello (1887)
Hans Beirer (tenor) – Otello; Renata Tebaldi (soprano) – Desdemona; William Dooley (baritone) – Iago; Mario Ferrara (tenor) – Cassio; Karl-Ernst Mercker (tenor) – Rodrigo; Sieglinde Wagner (mezzo) – Emilia; Ivan Sardi (bass) – Lodovico; Pecca Salomaa (bass) – Montano; Hans-Dietrich Pohl (bass)
Schöneberger Sängerknaben
Members of the Mandolin Orchestra Napoli
Chorus and Orchestra of the Deutsche Oper Berlin/Giuseppe Patané
rec. Deutsche Oper Berlin, 1 September 1962
Stage Director: Hans-Peter Lehmann
Stage Designer: Wilhelm Reinking
Sound format: PCM MONO
Subtitles: IT, GB, DE, FR, ES
Picture format: 4:3
Region code: 0
ARTHAUS MUSIK 101 644 [150:00]

Renata Tebaldi appeared in Berlin on just two occasions. The first of these took place in May 1961 when audience reactions were such that she promised to come back soon. This happened a little more than a year later in her signature role as Desdemona. The problem was that the Deutsche Oper had no production of Otello running, so they had to arrange something at short notice. This fell in the midst of a run of several first performances of new works. One of these was the world premiere of de Falla’s L’Atlantida. Hans-Peter Lehmann and Wilhelm Reinking had to make do with what props and sets were available in the opera warehouse.
At this time all performances at Deutsche Oper were sung in German, but for this special occasion all the soloists had to learn their parts in Italian. For the chorus, however, there was no time to learn the music in Italian – they were too busy rehearsing the other projects mentioned – so what we see and hear is a mixed-language performance. It was filmed for the EBU and naturally at this stage in black-and-white. The picture quality is passable, the production as such fairly ordinary and the mono sound acceptable considering the age of the recording. Were it not for Renata Tebaldi the interest value of this issue would be rather limited and the artistic quality no more than middling.
Tebaldi as actress lacked the charisma of her rival Callas but vocally she was in ravishing form, practically on the same level as on the Karajan Decca recording made in May 1961. Her floated pianissimo singing is especially impressive but in every respect this is world class vocalism. For someone who has known the Decca recording for close to half a century there is a special thrill to see her as well as hear her.
The rest of the cast are not in that league. Hans Beirer, who had been singing at the house since 1943, was a noted Wagner tenor both at La Scala and Bayreuth. As Otello he lacks the flexibility of tone and the Italianate ring of, say, Mario Del Monaco. He sounds rather uninspired in the big love duet in the first act but grows in stature in the last act. The young American William Dooley, who made his Berlin debut here, is vocally in splendid shape but is not fully inside his role. He was to remain at the Deutsche Oper for more than thirty years and became one of the pillars of strength there. There is a rather good Cassio in Mario Ferrara and in minor roles we find such names as Sieglinde Wagner and Ivan Sardi.
Giuseppe Patané was also at the beginning of his career, having just turned thirty. I can’t find very much personality in his conducting, but neither are there any idiosyncrasies.
There is another black-and-white DVD from the 1960s – sung in German – with Wolfgang Windgassen as a deeply involved Otello and Sena Jurinac a lovely Desdemona (see review). That one is a studio production, thrillingly directed by Otto Schenk. It’s far superior to the present issue, which is strictly for the Tebaldi fans. For the full picture of her – in worthier company – the aforementioned Karajan recording is far preferable.
Göran Forsling