[Met Performance] CID:130570

Metropolitan Opera House, Sat, January 18, 1941 Matinee Broadcast

Otello received three performances this season.

Review 1:

Review of Olin Downes in The New York Times


Appears in Name Part of Verdi Opera at the Metropolitan - Panizza Conductor


Stella Roman Sings Desdemona, Thelma Votipka Is Emilia, Alessio De Paolis Cassio

The first performance of Verdi's "Otello" this season in the Metropolitan Opera House took place yesterday afternoon and the reception of the wonderful opera bore impressive testimony to the evolution of public taste in late years. For the time is but little past when "Otello" was a work for connoisseurs only.

When it was produced it was billed in spite of popular indifference toward the opera or because of the appearance of celebrated stars who sufficed to draw an audience not particularly interested in the specific work which served as their vehicle. Yesterday the audience listened absorbed to a unique masterpiece of music drama and the applause showed its intense interest in the proceedings, despite a performance sometimes indifferent and sometimes worse.

The merits of this performance, though partial, can first be mentioned. They were to be found, for example, in Mr. Martinelli's earnestness and long acquaintance with the traditions of the opera, and the fact that as the performance went on and his voice warmed, he often conveyed emotion impressively, despite occasional deviations from pitch and the fact that his voice could not completely realize his intentions.

Stella Roman Dramatic

There were also the personal winsomeness and the naturally fine qualities of Miss Roman as a vocalist and dramatic interpreter, when she did not adopt curious mannerisms of technique which had incongruous effects upon her singing.

She is an exceptionally intelligent artist, a personable figure on the stage, and the voice itself is a fine instrument. After the first act it materially improved. She put an exceptional degree of drama into the great scenes with Otello and sang her songs of the last act, especially the "Ave Maria," with a sensitiveness and restraint which preserved the simplicity of the music and gave it its full distinction. Nor is there to be forgotten the last wild outcry of foreboding in her farewell to Emilia.

Characterization Criticized

Mr. Tibbett's Iago showed that his voice is recovering its resonance since he sang unwisely, weeks ago, through or over, colds and fevers. We can discount the fact that on this occasion it still proved inadequate to the needs of the Credo and of other moments of the afternoon. What is more important is the fact that his interpretation remains far from the Iago of Shakespeare, Verdi or his librettist. The part has nothing like the requisite degree of subtlety, dissimulation, terrifying malevolence and dramatic power.

At the same time that he misses many a detail of characterization and of dramatic emphasis, Mr. Tibbett tends to take the center of the stage where the crafty Iago should apparently play a secondary role while he manipulates his puppets and poisons Otello's mind to his destruction. The superficial camaraderie, the smooth malevolence of his lordship's ancient, from which, when the mask is torn, it is quickly put back in place until the final exposure, is one of the factors which increase the sinister and repellent force of this figure. The makeup is too youthful, and the picture, tonally and histrionically, out of drawing.

There was realized about half the significance of a tremendous opera which, notwithstanding vestiges of old-fashioned tradition, must rank as a whole, in the intensity of its inspiration, the distinction and economy of workmanship, the musical declamation which goes back to Monteverdi for its tradition, the modern employment of the orchestra and the fresh uses of well-known forms, as one of the greatest lyric dramas in existence, and a work which will constantly grow in public esteem.

Tempi Called Too Fast

Nor was there only disappointment in aspects of the leading roles, the essential qualities of the score were seldom realized by Mr. Panizza, whose tempi were usually too fast and whose reading missed many of the finer shadings of the score.

The secondary roles, beginning with Mr. de Paolis's very intelligent Cassio and Miss Votipka's Emilia, were competently done; the chorus was routine; the interpretive flash and grandeur of line and of feeling were only occasionally present. Nor are we enamored of the stage business in this opera, especially the public strangling of Desdemona, which seems unnecessary realism.

One says these things with some qualms. Because it is to Mr. Johnson's lasting glory that he insists on including this, one of the finest of all operas, in his repertory, and because, by such an artistic course, he has developed a public understanding and appreciation of the music. But one feels jealous for the true quality and welfare of "Otello," which deserves and requires for its complete appreciation a full realization of its values.

Gratifying it was, notwithstanding deficiencies of presentation, to behold an audience impressed and deeply stirred by this notable creation of the mature genius of Giuseppe Verdi.

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