The doomed heroine of Verdi’s tragic opera has recently been on my mind. While I was attending Renée Fleming’s recital with Evgeni Kissin, I kept thinking back to her cancellation of what would have been her next Carnegie Hall appearance: as Desdemona opposite Russell Thomas with the MET Orchestra this Thursday in the fourth act of Verdi’s opera. I was surprised when that withdrawal was announced as her participation in the Shakespeare-flavored program was likely its driving raison d’être.

Did the American diva decide she could no longer handle Desdemona’s vocal demands? Angel Blue was swiftly released from some of her Santa Fe Toscas to replace Fleming both in next week’s New York concert and on the Met Orchestra’s first European tour in years.

This past Sunday was Marton’s 80th birthday and I wanted to note it with one of the Hungarian soprano’s rarer roles. Many will recall her unfortunate Met Il Trovatore telecast, but in the early years of her career Marton performed a number of Verdi operas including Attila, Ernani, Aida, Don Carlo, Falstaff, and La Forza del destino, as well as Otello, which one can hear today in a 1979 Hamburg outing with Carlo Cossutta and Kostas Paskalis.

Cossutta is also Varady’s Otello, conducted by Carlos Kleiber. He also elsewhere preferred Mirella Freni, Margaret Price and Katia Ricciarelli, but since this new production premiere occurred in Munich Varady got the job. It may have been her only live collaboration with the conductor of her Die Fledermaus recording (with the terrible Orlofsky). Desdemona was a role the soprano sang until late in her long career; however, this is the earliest Varady Otello I’ve run across.

The Stratas Desdemona is among the rarest of Met in-house recordings. Most are aware that Stratas canceled the first performance of this run, ceding its Saturday matinee premiere to Kiri Te Kanawa who triumphed in her Met debut. However, Stratas sang the remaining four, and this recording documents her first local Desdemona, a role she debuted in Montréal seven years earlier. This evening marked her very first Met collaboration with James Levine who soon proved one of her staunchest advocates. She never again performed Otello after this 1974 group.

The 2001 Paris Otellos were Mattila’s only Desdemonas. She also found Amelia in Un Ballo in Maschera an uncongenial fit. Any guesses why?

Verdi: Otello

Desdemona: Teresa Stratas
Emilia: Jean Kraft
Otello: Jon Vickers
Iago: Thomas Stewart
Cassio: William Lewis
Lodovico: Paul Plishka
Montàno: Robert Goodloe
Roderigo: Andrea Velis
Herald: David Holloway

Conductor: James Levine

Verdi: Otello

Desdemona: Julia Varady
Emilia: Gudrun Wewezow
Otello: Carlo Cossutta
Iago – Piero Cappuccilli
Cassio – Benito Maresca
Montano – Hans Wilbrink
Lodovico – Nikolaus Hillebrandt
Herald – Hermann Sapell

Conductor: Carlos Kleiber

Bayerische Staatsoper
31 October 1977

Verdi: Otello

Desdemona: Eva Marton
Emilia: Olive Fredricks
Otello: Carlo Cossutta
Jago: Kostas Paskalis
Cassio: John Stewart
Roderigo: Peter Haage
Lodovico: Ernst Wiemann
Montano: Herbert Fliether
Un araldo: Carl Schultz

Conductor: Nello Santi

Hamburgische Staatsoper
12 February 1979
In-house recording

Verdi: Otello

Desdemona: Karita Mattila
Emilia: Enkelejda Shkosa
Otello: José Cura
Iago: Anthony Michaels-Moore
Cassio: Cesare Catani
Roderigo: Mirko Guadagnini
Lodovico: Egils Silins
Montano: Juha Kotilainen

Orchestra and Chorus of the Philharmonique de Radio France
Conductor: Myung-Whun Chung

Theatre du Chatelet, Paris
29 March 2001

Each Otello can be downloaded by clicking on the icon of a cloud with an arrow pointing downward on the audio player above and the resulting mp3 file will appear in your download directory.

Subscribe to Chris’s cache via Apple Podcasts or RSS.