La Cieca is delighted to note that two of the best-remembered and most-coveted “Live from the Met” telecasts have at last been made available on DVD. Otello (25 September 1978) and Cavalleria rusticana/Pagliacci (5 April 1978) are now available at the Met Opera Shop and online at, “as well as through other outlets.”

La Cieca’s cher public will be happy to know that both these releases may be purchased at


Cavalleria Rusticana / Pagliacci

Otello really is a gem, with Jon Vickers in excellent form (a stray high note or two notwithstanding), a superb balance of passion and intelligence. The vocal and physical dignity he brings to the role firmly places the work on the plane of high tragedy. The Desdemona is (as you all know) Renata Scotto, in a part that is not a natural fit vocally — her timbre is narrow and steely where one would want a more plush sound. But to hear her phrasing a line like “Oh! come è dolce il mormorare insieme” or “Guarda le prime lagrime” is to remember just how specific and committed an artist she always was. (More, including previews, after the jump.)

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Both she and Vickers are, it should go without saying, terrific singing actors. One standout moment is the third act confrontation, when Otello has thrown Desdemona to the floor. Scotto is of course Queen of the Cowerers, and Vickers, a man of at best medium height, contrives to tower over her like a giant. Even his shadow is enormous and menacing!

The Iago, Cornell MacNeil, is good in a more generalized “opera singer” sort of way, not helped particularly by the unflattering black Caesar cut wig and studded leather jerkins of the Franco Zeffirelli production. On the other hand, you compare even late-career MacNeil with what we mostly get singing Iago today, and, well, let’s just say the wig is forgiven.

Cav/Pag is another Zeffirelli staging. At the time of the telecasts, neither was a decade old yet, though the Otello is already starting to look a little dusty. Cavalleria in particular looks great on video, perhaps because it’s lit brightly as a Sicily midday. This set is a must-have primarily for the Santuzza of Tatiana Troyanos, a veritiable singing Magnani. No one ever did slow-burning torment like Troyanos, and here she’s in tip-top vocal shape too, with searing top notes and easy, rich chest tones.

The rest of the evening is all fine if not on the exalted level of the mezzo-soprano. Placido Domingo doubles the tenor roles, prey to nerves as Turiddu but back in his customary “demonic” form for Canio opposite the gold-standard late ’70s Met cast of Teresa Stratas and Sherrill Milnes.

James Levine takes the verismo double bill a little on the ponderous/Wagnerian side — except when his tenor wants to get off a pesky high note. The Otello, though, I think must be his conducting masterpiece: vital, thrilling and big-hearted, without even a hint of vulgarity.

The image and sound on the DVDs have been cleaned up nicely, though the occasional lapses of focus and off-mike singing remind us that these performances date from the infancy of televised live opera. For my taste, I’d rather have a rough edge here and there as a reality check that what we’re seeing and hearing is the real deal, not something created in post-production.

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