[Met Performance] CID:193500

New Production

Metropolitan Opera House, Sun, March 10, 1963

Otello (132)
Giuseppe Verdi | Arrigo Boito
James McCracken

Gabriella Tucci

Robert Merrill

Mignon Dunn

Paul Franke

Bonaldo Giaiotti

Clifford Harvuot

Andrea Velis

Roald Reitan

Georg Solti

Herbert Graf

Eugene Berman

Mattlyn Gavers

Otello received fourteen performances this season.

Production a gift of the Metropolitan Opera National Council and Mrs. Albert D. Lasker

Review 1:

Review of Paul Affelder in the Brooklyn Eagle

The Metropolitan Opera unveiled its last new production of the season Sunday evening, and with it a new leading tenor. The opera was Verdi's "Otello," the tenor who sang the title role, James McCracken.

McCracken is no newcomer to the Met. He made his debut there back in November, 1953 in the inconspicuous part of Parpignol in "La Boheme." For four seasons he sang only small comprimario roles, always feeling and hoping he was meant for bigger things but never getting the chance. Finally, with the blessing of Rudolf Bing, he left the Met for a stint of operatic study in Europe. There he learned to sing the leading parts, became in important member of the Zurich and Vienna Opera Companies, and began to earn himself a reputation. Bing heard him sing Otello in Zurich, and engaged him to return to the Broadway house as the Moor.

On Sunday night, McCracken and Bing gave proof that the five-season hiatus had been a wise one. Good leading tenors of any kind are hard to find; good tenors with voices powerful enough for the big Verdi and Wagner roles are almost impossible to come by. The Met hasn't had a top-flight Otello for years. Now it has. Incidentally, one of the great interpreters of the role in years past, Giovanni Martinelli, was in the audience Sunday to hear and applaud his successor.

McCracken is a huge man. His voice is huge, too, and it seldom, if ever, sounded forced. It has a slightly dark quality, suggestive of a baritone, yet the tenor range is very much there. His portrayal of the jealousy-racked Moor was impassioned and deeply moving, and he well deserved the shrieks of "Bravo!" that greeting him after each one of the opera's four acts.

Though McCracken was the big attraction, he was far from the whole show. There was Robert Merrill, singing his first Metropolitan Iago with velvety smooth tones but sinister gestures and sly insinuations. And there was Gabriella Tucci, new to the role of Desdemona here. Stepping in to the shoes of Renata Tebaldi, who was obliged to cancel her scheduled appearances in the work may be a thankless assignment; but the attractive young Italian soprano carried it off with dignity and sensitivity, gaining considerable effect by slightly underplaying the part . And one could wish for no finer singing of the "Salce" and "Ave Maria." her two big arias in the final act. Mignon Dunn's Emilia and Paul Franke's Cassio were very well done. In the pit George Solti whipped up quite a lot of excitement, though there were moments when his tempi seemed rather fast. The tension and the balance were there, though, and that is what counted.

The new production, a gift of the Metropolitan Opera National Council and Mrs. Albert D. Lasker, had colorful new sets and costumes by Eugene Berman. Though the former were tasteful and often extremely attractive, they were inclined to be a trifle too symmetrical, lending a certain static quality to the stage. It was good to have Herbert Graf back as stage director. One could see his fine hand at work everywhere.

Sunday's performance was a benefit for the Metropolitan Opera Guild, but it will naturally be repeated a number of times between now and the end of the season. It is definitely worth seeing and hearing, especially with James McCracken, a rare "rediscovery" in the name part.

Review 2:

Review of Everett Helm in the March 15, 1963 issue of Musical America

Metropolitan Opera House Covers Itself With Glory In Its New Production of Giuseppe Verdi's "Otello"

In its final new production of the 1962-63 season, the Metropolitan Opera covered itself with glory. On March 10 a capacity audience gave a well-deserved ovation to the conductor and singers who made the performance of Verdi's "Otello" a memorable occasion.

A major share of 'the credit goes to Georg Solti, whose conducting set the pace and the tone. He was able to transmit his eminently dramatic concept of this magnificent score to the orchestra and singers in such a way as to produce a perfectly-rounded whole that had no holes and no psychological let-down.

This is not to say that the performance was hectic-far from it. But the moments of tension and relaxation were so organized and related to one another as to create a constant natural ebb and flow. The climaxes grew organically out of what had preceded them; and the quiet passages were charged with as much excitement as the climactic sections. Solti's close attention to detail was exemplary-one heard things in the orchestra that one seldom hears, but that are certainly meant to be heard. Yet the detail never obscured or detracted from the forward movement of the work.

The evening saw the return to the Met of James McCracken, the young tenor from Gary, Indiana, who is probably the best Otello around today. His last previous appearance on the Met stage was in 1957, when he left the company after four years, having sung a long series of "bit" parts. As the messenger in "Aida" he listened to and followed the advice: "Ritorna vincitor." It was indeed as a conqueror that the American tenor returned. He possesses a fine, large voice which he uses with skill and intelligence. His high notes are powerful without being forced; his intonation is excellent. His acting is convincing-free of those operatic clichés that so often characterize the acting of singers. In short, he has all the makings of a great star, and he is still relatively young. His present European reputation is based primarily on his portrayal of Otello. It will be interesting to see him in other roles.

The role of Desdemona, originally scheduled to be sung by Renata Tebaldi, was taken over by Gabriella Tucci, and we doubt very much that the production was the poorer for this substitution. Tucci is a superb artist, combining a lovely voice with immaculate production, and musicianship. Her long monologue at the beginning of Act IV, in which she produced some exquisite pianissimos, was one of the high points of the evening. The restraint with which she sang and acted the part of Desdemona was admirable and constituted a perfect foil to Otello's rantings.

Robert Merrill as Iago turned in a splendid performance both as regards singing and acting. He was not, to be sure, the totally evil, 110 per cent wicked Iago that one sometimes sees in this role, and that was all to the good. He portrayed a person, not a caricature. His diction, so important in this role, was the best of the evening.

The role of Cassio was eminently well sung by Paul Franke, whose acting was a mite on the stiff side. In supporting parts, Mignon Dunn (Emilia), Andrea Velis (Roderigo), substituting for an ailing Robert Nagy, Bonaldo Giaiotti (Ludovico), Clifford Harvuot (Montano) and Roald Reitan (a herald) all acquitted themselves well.

Eugene Berman created some very pretty sets and costumes for this new production. For my own taste, the sets were too fussy, too "busy." They might have been more successful if some of the detail had been omitted-for instance, the gratuitous turrets in the background, among the cypress trees, of Act II. Herbert Graf's stage direction was of the safe and sound variety-on the whole quite satisfactory, except for some of the large choral groupings. The chorus, incidentally, sang with exceptional precision and esprit-thanks, no doubt, to Solti.

It is good to have "Otello" in the Met repertoire again, for it is one of the masterpieces of operatic literature.

The previous "Otello" production dated from 1937 and ran until 1959. The cast of that premiere included Giovanni Martinelli as Otello, Elisabeth Rethberg as Desdemona and Lawrence Tibbett as Iago. The stage director then, as now, was Herbert Graf.

Photograph of James McCracken in the title role of Otello.

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