As a youngster, I bought this Otello recording as LP. I liked Mario del Monaco, and as Otello was his reference role… Later on, it passed, and when replacing my LP collection with CDs, I didn’t replace this recording. Till 2 months ago: It thought It’s time to hear this recording with the hours of listening experience I have…
At the first listening, I thought, yes, this is a good Otello recording. Let’s start with Karajan. I’m not a big fan of him, but I have to admit, that he was one of the huge conductors of the 20th century. Here, he achieves a balance between energy, beauty, and originality. Otello, as the violence of the main character is there, is an Opera with a lot of energy in it, and even if Karajan puts less energy as other first-class conductors, I think the balance is OK. At least, the recording is every moment interesting, captivating me. The Vienna Philharmonic plays wonderfully here, the orchestra has a full role in the recording, and enables Karajan to realize his vision of the score.
Mario del Monaco was very reputed as Otello. 1961 is past his prime, in the recording, he is less impressive than in the live recordings existing. But he is still a good Otello, principally because his classical verismo outbursts are lacking here. All together, he makes a “human” Otello, which is quite surprising for him. Renata Tebaldi is here a very good Desdemona. OK, Desdemona is certainly not the most complicated Verdi Heroine, but Tebaldi sings very beautifully, what is the most important here. Aldo Protti, as Iago, is, in my sight, a good routinier. The voice is not very interesting, quite rough, and from the psychology, this is not really interesting. Other roles are OK.
Last point: The recording is technically on the “impressive” side. Effects are present, brillance is there either. As in a lot of recordings of this time, the reprises are audible (BTW I always thing to the first shot of it, questioning what was not perfect…). Precision is not perfect either. Please notice that I’m quite demanding here and here music with monitoring equipment.
So, time to conclude: This is by far not a perfect recording of Otello, but I don’t know any which is perfect… But, at least, the recording is interesting, and I don’t regret having bought it, as I hear it from time to time completely. Which is not the case of every recording…