Jonas Kaufmann’s recording of Otello has been a long time
coming. The seed was planted in 2013 when this charismatic tenor
included two tracks on his Sony recital The Verdi Album; they
were easily the album’s highlights. By 2017, at the Royal Opera
House, after nursing inflamed vocal cords, he felt ready to
tackle the full opera on stage, even though the title role needs
a voice bursting with extra heft. One year later a DVD and
Blu-ray memento emerged. The present offering is a carefully
prepared studio recording, set down last summer in Rome, with
Antonio Pappano, dynamic as ever, conducting the Orchestra
dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia.
still isn’t a natural thunderer, lacking perhaps half the brute
force usually expected when Otello starts to rage, despite the
dark baritone colours at his command. Compensation comes with
the expressive power and dramatic irony of his second famous
characteristic: a beautiful head voice and pianissimo tone
sustained by long curling breaths, heard at their most seductive
when in love mode with Desdemona at the end of Act I. Kaufmann’s
vocal variety also ensures plenty of punch when Otello is
swallowed in bitter regret. Who could fail to be knocked for six
by his, and the opera’s, very last word, “bacio” (kiss), reduced
here to a death-rattle croak?
From the storm-tossed
opening scene onwards, Pappano propels his forces with the
passion and attention to detail that make him the supreme opera
conductor, especially in Verdi. As Iago, Carlos Alvarez
initially holds back his evil, but the gloves come off with his
Credo aria and aren’t replaced. New to the role, Federica
Lombardi at times makes Desdemona not just innocent but bland.
All that is blown away by her tormented singing in Act IV.
Before the virus intervened, she had been booked to create
Desdemona in March at the Deutsche Oper Berlin.
Microphones and the hall acoustic create pros and cons of their
own, with much beneficial highlighting of instrumental colours
and occasional “offstage” effects that don’t convince. Buy the
album anyway for Kaufmann’s painful beauties and Pappano’s