The Lion of Madrid
25th Anniversary of Domingo’s debut as Otello
What is the measure of artist’s success in a particular role? Headlines of articles /’Otellissimo! ', 'Moor of Moors', 'Lion of Madrid’/? Laudatory reviews /’Since Domingo first sang Otello all other interpreters have appeard mere substitutes' – The Times/? Record breaking applause /103 curtain calls in Berlin/? Maybe the statement of Sir Lawrence Olivier: 'Domingo plays Othello as well as I do AND he has that voice! '? And so on, and so on. What is the measure of artist’s greatness in a particular role? All of the above plus the most important thing: the reaction of the audience, and the feelings of the listeners. Shakespearian tragedy of jealousy, transformed by Boito’s sensibility becomes Verdi’s masterpiece, tragedy of the soul. When Domingo sings Otello, the measure of his greatness is the absolute, unending silence, that precedes the standing ovation at the end of the performance. United 'fermata' over the last note which allows the public to overcome a feeling of strange confusion, even embarrassment, that they have just witnessed an extremely personal, almost intimate tragedy of a man destroyed by the Fate.
Birgit Nilsson heard Domingo for the first time in 1966 at the grand opening of the new seat of the New York City Opera in Lincoln Center. Absolutely delighted in the young, 25-years-old tenor, she said: 'What a great Otello he is going to be one day! '. Many people denied her with amusement stressing that Domingo had a beautiful but clearly lyrical voice. 'But I could already hear Otello in it', says Nilsson, 'and I was deeply gratified when he justified my prediction! '
Yes, Domingo was born to this part. He had always wanted to sing Otello but he knew that it would be possible only after reaching full vocal maturity. He became acquainted with this opera very early – at only 20 he sang a part of Cassio in Monterrey, in Mexico City /with James McCracken as Otello/ and in Hartford /USA/, where the hero of the evening was Mario del Monaco. However, Domingo was also noticed. 'Not a comprimario, this gifted young man, but a rising star! ', wrote one of the reviewers. Domingo was offered the Moor’s part before he was 30 years of age, but, sensibly, he refused. However, when in 1971 the newly appointed manager of Hamburg Opera, August Everding, mentioned that Verdi’s masterpiece would be staged there in the future, Domingo knew that in three, maybe four years, he would be able to face the challenge, and he promised Everding to sing his first Otello ever in Hamburg.
This event took place on September 28, 1975 – 25 years ago – and follewed a long /for Domingo/ period of rehearsals: a whole month, 6 hours every day, during which the artist sang full voice to set it properly. No wonder, the role of Otello is considered morderous, and Domingo was only 34… He admired the creations of his predecessors – Vinay /for his great interpretation/, del Monaco /for his vocal power/, Vickers, McCracken and others, but he had no intention to destroy his more lyrical voice by imitating them. He had to find his own path. And he did. Some years later he told about his first experience with Otello: 'The problem with that opera is not how Verdi wrote it, but how tenors sing it. If you read the score, you see how amazing it is that tenors respect so little what he wrote. Also conductors. In reality, it contains only about 20 minutes of strictly dramatic singing. For most of the time on phrases, where tenors think, they need so much voice, in fact – if the orchestra, if the conductor is doing what Verdi actually wrote – what they need is not volume, but color. ' Domingo never was a singer for whom 'life began at forte' /how Mario del Monaco was once described/. Right from the beginning his musicality and intelligence told him that Otello’s feelings, his love, despair, pain and ever fury, don’t have to be shouted out. 'I studied the score', recalls Domingo. 'I spent much time sitting at the piano, just playing the music and thinking about what Otello is saying. I considered how to color the words, how much weight you give to that particular phrase, how much should be legato, where should be the staccato, how dark here, how light there. Gradually I realized, that Otello’s voice must be deep, almost baritonal, no matter how lyrical or how dramatic is the phrase. If you can’t produce that kind of sound you shouldn’t sing Otello at all. '
The color! That was the discovery which allowed the young tenor to triumph in a heavy, dramatic role. Asked, how he changes the color of his voice, how he achieves this special, trombone-like sound, Domingo campares singing to painting, especially to the impressionist art which mixed the primary colors to receive certain shade of gold or azure. 'The coloration is determined by the musical style', says Domingo, 'by the role, even by the orchestration. Before my debut in Otello I used /in singing/ all my lyricism, my fire, my impetuosity, the power of my youthfulness. I worked on the volume of my voice. After the Otello debut I realized that I could never again be satisfied with the mere natural charm of my voice, that I had to constantly paint, when singing, melting all the colors, bursting with subtly colored combinations. It forced me to rethink my technique. It was a great singing lesson. ' Thanks to it Domingo not only didn’t damage his voice, but also could sing other, lighter roles with much more easy.
To every artist Otello is not only a test of vocal possibilities, but also a test of his stamina. 'Singing Otello is really like singing two operas. Just the Act II requires the same effort as, say, I Pagliacci', explains Domingo. 'Otello is the role, that goes from bottom to top /of tenor’s scale/. You have two octaves plus one semitone – one of the most complete vocal dramatic parts and for that reason one of the most difficult. ' On top of everything else, it was so splendidly and at the same time so perversely written by the old magus from Sant' Agata, that – if performed properly – must give the impression of speaking, not singing. The whole limitlessly tremendous vocal artistry of Domingo creates exactly such an illusion.
Even the most perfect singing, however, is not enough to create Otello. This character has to be acted. Domingo did an in-depth study of Shakespeare’s original, he admired the performances of Lawrence Olivier and Orson Welles, as interesting for him as the interpretations of his predecessors on the operatic stage.
So how does Domingo create his Otello? Every great artist endows the role with his distincts signature, giving the character new features. Shakespeare and Boito made Otello an impetuous man, who can not control his emotions, who loses his temper too fast, judges others hastily and is easy manipulated. This is the exact opposite of Domingo, who is an example of inner equilibrium, calm, cautious in making decisions, disinclined to argue, and moreover – friendly and affectionate. This 'Placido by name and by character' /La Stampa, 18.4.2000/ had to transform his hero a little. 'Many people think that Otello is awe-inspiring and powerful', says Domingo, who sees him rather as man full of fears and complex, a stranger in a white man’s world. 'A great warrior of noble character, but not brutal the way many people portray him. He has been very much refined by the new culture, by the new religion, by the new people. At the same time as a human being he is naive. He is as much a victim as Desdemona. '
Vickers and McCracken portrayed Otello – excelently – as a madman, already demented almost to the point of murder as soon as the middle of Act II. Insteed Domingo’s Otello is a deeply wounded man, bitterly reflecting upon his misery, more lost in despair than angry and vengeful. This man has a premonition of impending doom – a bitter gift, so personal, and destructive of what is the deepest in human being. This Otello suffers – and the public suffers with him identyfying with his pain even more than with the destiny of his victim.
'When I listen to the finale of Otello performed by Vinay, I feel his breath, a breath of an old man reaching his end. I am infinitely sad. When I listen to del Monaco, I don’t feel sorry for Otello; I think it’s just as well because the tragedy ends at last. But when I listen or watch Domingo in the same scene I feel an enormous sorrow that such a great, magnificent man is so lonely and has no one who would give him a helping hand. I feel tears under my eyelids, but I can’t help him. And he is searching for a human hand, rummaging through bloodstained space… Domingo’s Otello creeps towards Desdemona, only to find the hand of a corpse. He touches her, as if he wanted, through his death, to bring her back to life. He touches her across the space, crawl… and misses only by centimetres. And around him – the humanity, watching everything with judging eyes. ' /Radio Bis, Poland, IX 1995, 20th anniversary of Domingo’s Otello, a programme by Zdzisław Otello Horodecki/.
The tragedy of Otello is inherent in his relationship with Iago and Desdemona. Iago, who personifies Evil, participates in the intrigue just as much as Otello, and can act his part to the utmost, with support of Boito’s excellent text and Verdi’s music. Desdemona, a symbol of Goodness, is an unusual, musically wonderful part. 'Intelligence and affection! ', as Verdi used to say. And, of course, quality of the voice and sensitivity to the drama. Not all sopranos feel at home in this role. The great singer, Magda Olivero never wanted to sing Desdemona. She said, that more suitable for her stage temperament would be the role of… Otello! /In one of the interviews she admitted that she would give 10 years of her life, to perform Dio! mi potevi scagliar on stage just once/.
Domingo sang Otello with more than 20 Desdemonas. Each one of them was slightly different. For example, Freni, Cruz-Romo, Higareda or Tomowa-Sintow clearly tried to give their heroine a strong personality, to portray her as the pround daughter of a Venetian noble. However, it is then difficult to understand, why such a strong personality becomes totally helpless in the presence of Otello who is not a wild, brutal and frightening, but, even though angry, looks deeply unhappy and desperate. The Desdemonas created by Ricciarelli, Te Kanawa, Esperian, Tokody, Dessi or Fleming seem more believable – very young girls, delicate, sensitive, childishly naive, and so in love with Otello that they are totally at loss, facing the sudden change in his behavior. This Desdemona is beautiful and so charming, filled with unconscious eroticism, so that everybody is in love with her – Rodrigo, Cassio, maybe even Iago? She is worshipped by the Cypriotes and most of all – by Otello himself, whose passion should be justified by her look and behaviour. Such is the suggestive power of Domingo’s acting that each Desdemona, irregardless of her real appearance, is flawless beauty since we (the audience) can see her trough Otello’s loving eyes.
Domingo’s interpretations of Otello change a little, according to his female partner. In his opinion, there is a large age difference between Otello and his wife, something like 15-30 years. 'If my Desdemona is, or looks very youthful, mid-twenties', says Domingo, 'then I try to appear not older than about forty. If she is obviously a little older, more mature, looking thirty-something, which I suppose is true of most the sopranos I sing with, then I try to look closer to my real age, early fifties or so. '
One of the methods Domingo always uses to make Otello’s conviction about Desdemona’s betrayal believable, is his almost total lack of eye contact with Iago. He looks into Desdemona’s eyes, because she loves him and will always be on his side. But Iago should not look and behave too diabolically, because in that case Otello would have to be an utter fool to believe him. It is much better, if Iago pretends to be an faithful aide-de-camp, devoted and loyal to his commander. 'If Iago is more subtle, I can look into his eyes more often', says Domingo.
In comparison to Shakespeare’s play, Verdi’s work pases additional difficulties for the artist performing Otello, as a result of the fact that Boito abridged the play, eliminating the whole of Act I. Iago’s intrigue develops with ligtning speed – in one short scene /Cio m’accora… Che parli? / Otello throws away love and trust, and is almost certain that Desdemona deceives him. As early as his debut in 1975, Domingo in this key conversation with Iago tried to delay as much as possible the moment when doubts are born in Otello’s mind. It wasn’t easy, as the director wanted him to walk out on stage with a rose in his hand, in a dreamlike mood, happy after the night of love with Desdemona /the same was in Paris in 1976/. In later productions Domingo always asked for something additional to do in that scene – something absorbing Otello’s attention so completely that for a long time he would not be able to hear the implied meanings hidden in Iago’s words. Domingo describes it as follows: 'You hear. You are busy. You listen. And after a while you start to understand, what he is telling you. You explode for just a second in Miseria mia!, and then you say – no, no, I cannot be only suspecting. I have to find the proof. I have to delay. And then the really first, first moment of tremendous fury or desolation is Ora e per sempre addio, Otello’s farewell to all he has lived for. By the time arrives the duet of the third act, you are dead, you are completely dead and lost. '
Addressing God in his full of grief monoloque Dio! mi potevi scagliar Domingo changes the timbre of his voice, making it soundless, flat, stripped of resonance or physicality. Taking long breaths between phrases, with a lump in his throat he mournfully whispers divided words of complaint, like a man that tries to abstain from tears. 'It has quality of a recitative', Domingo says. 'I try to think about almost guttural sound that this black man will have in a moment of desperation. '
Domingo plays Otello with his whole body which should move like a panther, nimbly and springily. But of course the face is the most important. The eyes, the slightest twitch of the lips, the frown – all the subtle details which make the art of showing the feelings. Acting is more than just gestures dictated by the director. Domingo’s acting and gestures are incomparable, apt, clever, very well controled and meaningful. Only the single sharp movement he uses to stop Iago at arm’s length /after Iago’s words Ti frena! Ti nascondi!, Act III/ shows, in a flash of consciousness, the loathing the victim feels towards his tormentor, a fleeting glimpse of a 'former Otello', who would have been disgusted to eavesdrop on Cassio’s words.
Domingo always mentions how grateful he is to Verdi, who assigned a part of Otello to a tenor; especially when so many vocally and theatrically interesting roles, such as Nabucco, Rigoletto, Macbeth, Simone Boccanegra, Falstaff, were given by him to baritones. Fortunately, the part of Otello allows a singer not only to present the full quality of his voice, but also all his histrionic talents. Immortal work of the Shakespeare’s, Verdi’s /and Boito’s! / genius, together with the passion and genius of Domingo, add up to an extraordinary effect. The audience is conscious of this fact, and often counts a meeting with Domingo’s Otello among the most thrilling experiences in the world of opera. Singing Otello is always something special for Domingo. 'I never want to feel', he explains, 'oh my God, I’ve still got a couple of Otellos to do before I can go off and get on with something else. No, Otello will always be a special occasion for me, something I have been looking forward to with great impatience. ' The eager public of the greatest opera houses of the world share that impatience with him, because, like music critic Harold Schonberg stated – there are many candidates for the President of the United States, but for Otello is only Domingo.
During the last 25 years, ever since his 1975 Hamburg debut, Domingo has played Otello on stage over 200 times, more than any other contemporary tenor. It is obvious that his conception of the role had to change several times. The first productions in Hamburg, Paris and Madrid were deeply influenced by the Moorish world. Otello resembled Jaffar of Baghdad, Desdemona (i. e. in Paris) looked like a beautiful Berber girl, the scenography, though not overly rich, was distinctly Middle Eastern, suggestive of the tastes of the commander and his court. For Domingo this Moorish concept was a great challenge, as in the Eastern world the killing an unfaithful wife bears the stamp of social consent – it is a custom, horrible, but a custom nevertheless. The young Domingo managed to underline the fact that it was a very private tragedy which took place in a family. Here a murder, defying both God’s and human laws, can be viewed not only as a punishment, but as a two-edged sword, annihilating both the victim and the perpetrator. The death of Desdemona means death for Otello – how could someone who loved so much live AFTER?
In 1976 Domingo eagerly accepted Franco Zeffirelli’s idea of showing at La Scala an Otello, who is totally black-skinned (very dark make-up and a small, tight wig imitating black, curly hair). This decision shifted the interpretation to a different track, and put more emphasis on racial difference. Otello was a lonely African in white society, and this caused his uncertainty and complexes. Cassio and Desdemona seemed closer to each other because of their shared race and culture – a culture which Otello accepted, but never made his own. This Otello was still a little angry, impatient, impetuous. Domingo’s voice sounded glamorous, absolutely sure and powerful, and conquered the most difficult phrases with ease. We can see such an Otello on a commercial videorecording made at La Scala in ’76, and on many TV recordings (Met ’79, Mexico City ’81, Tokyo ’82). The concept of a 'black' Otello found its supreme embodiment in Franco Zeffirelli’s film made in 1986 with the perfect cast: of course, Domingo as Otello, beautiful Katia Ricciarelli as Desdemona, totally believable Justino Diaz as Iago, and handsome actor Umberto Barberini (a real Italian prince, by the way) playing the part of Cassio (which was sung by Ezio di Cesare). Unfortunately, Zeffirelli was forced to bow to commercial demands and shortened the movie to a little below 2 hours. The cuts inflicted on the opera score were most painful for opera lovers (parts of an excellent Maazel recording were lost!), and, at the same time, made Domingo’s job much more difficult, as he had to make all the scenes musically and theatrically believable despite the schredded score. And he did it! He and the rest of the cast are ravishing as singers and actors. We get a fascinating, lively picture of great emotions, further enhanced by the bewitchingly beautiful scenography, splendid costumes, and unconstrained acting of Cretan nonprofessionals. Truly, the critically acclaimed Otello by Oliver Parker seems tepid and colourless in comparison to Zeffirelli’s movie. The film of the great Italian director, a marvelous documentary of Domingo’s art, marked the end of a certain stage in the singer’s artistic explorations. It was time for changes.
In 1986, after the tragic experience of the Mexico City earthquake (among thousands of victims were four Domingo’s relatives and he personally took part in the rescue, digging in the rubble in search of survivors), the artist, by then in his prime, began to present a very different Otello. It was as if his personal tragedy bore unexpected fruit, taking the form of a shift in emphasis: from the outside factors, which follow naturally from the hero’s different race and culture, to the loneliness of an outsider, sentenced to solitude because of his destructive nature. This Otello is almost a romantic hero, with a soul lost in darkest grief, pushed by Fate towards inevitable undoing. Otello even looks different, with light brown skin and costume more reminiscent of Hamlet than of a condotierre. He is noble, dignified and very much in love, deeply wounded by the suspicion of Desdemona’s supposed unfaithfulness. In his soul there is only pain, he feels practically no jealousy, no wounded masculine pride. Love and suffering – extremities of emotion, veering from loss of trust to a desperate desire for that trust to return. This Otello seeks physical contact with Desdemona, holds her close while shouting at her, wants to strike her, and at the same time embraces her protectively, going through an inferno of love broken and destroyed for reasons that seem logical only to him. Domingo paints Otello with a voice which is able to convey the slightest change of feeling, even more subtle, and composedly articulated. Domingo sung this 'suffering Otello' f. e. in Paris (at the opening of Opera Bastille), Madrid, Vienna, Covent Garden, Lisbon, Sankt Petersburg (all these performances were videotaped). It is by far the most positive notion of this part – an Otello, whose behavior and reactions seem justified in the world of Iago’s false truths, and whose suffering must evoke everyone’s compassion. Apparently nothing more could be changed in that role. But…
In the season 1993/94 the New York Metropolitan Opera decided to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Domingo’s stage debut with a new, specially prepared production of Verdi’s masterpiece, directed by John Schlesinger, with the scenography by William Dudley. The artist expected a lot from this staging, recalling his wonderful cooperation with Schlesinger in the Tales of Hoffmann for the Covent Garden Opera in 1980. Alas, in 1993, only five months before the start of the new season, the Schlesinger/Dudley production was stopped, as too ambitious and too difficult to produce in a theatre giving seven perfomances a week, with an additional matinée on Saturdays. At the time, greatest opera houses, including the Staatsoper and the Covent Garden, were playing new productions of Otello, tailored for Domingo in 1987 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the opera’s premiere. Faced with a crisis, the management of the Met decided to adapt the London production, and launched on frantic preparations with the director Elijah Moshinsky, costume designer Peter J. Hall, and author of scenography Michael Yergan. There wasn’t enough time to prepare the production for the opening of the season, so the premiere took place in March 1994. In spite of the very similar costumes this staging was a little different from the Covent Garden production especially with respect to direction and scenography (in London its author was Timothy O’Brien). Nevertheless, evident likenesses between the two moved Domingo to introduce new nuances into the interpretation of his part. He had a splendid advantage, given by life itself – his age. And so there appeared a new Otello, showing us a man well past his prime, with added silver in his hair and a stooping figure, in visible physical pain, as if troubled by wounds received in past battles. We saw a man who clearly belongs to another generation than the radiantly young Cassio and Desdemona. He is a husband who must doubt his wife’s faithfulness, because her love for a man so much older than herself, so weary with life, seems to him a miracle which won’t last. The first trace of this bitter anxiety appears as early as in Act I, in Otello’s duet with Desdemona; soon Otello will give credence to the 'proofs of betrayal', making him feel not only despair and pain but also disdain and hatred. Domingo articulates this hatred with an extremely dark voice, diabolicaly quiet, as if through clenched teeth. Disdain and hate are all that is left to him, the only things he can still offer to the world. Life did not spare him any kind of misfortune – kidnapped and enslaved he had to carve his way from the side of conquered to the side of victors. In the end, all he has achieved is the uncertain position of a mercenary commander of the Venetian army, a position enmeshed in a complicated tangle of dependencies and necessities. This Otello is tired and mistrustful of everything and everybody. Nothing counts for him any more: in Act III, in full view of Serenissima’s ambassador and all the crowd, Otello not only humilitates Desdemona verbally but also slapes her, throws this Venetian patrician daughter to the ground, a terra!, by striking her in the face. Thus he chooses to reckon with the world. The time of reckoning with Desdemona will come soon.
The first cast of that performance included Carol Vaness and Sergei Leiferkus; later on, in 1995, Domingo obtained perfect partners in the persons of the young Renee Fleming – a sweet Desdemona, who thought she had already tamed the Lion and didn’t notice he was still dangerous – and a cynical, slightly caustic James Morris as Iago. This performance was videotaped by PBS; excerpts from the 1994 recording were included in the Placido Domingo’s Tales from the Opera.
This analysis of the changes introduced by Domingo in his interpretation of Otello has no pretence to be a complete or the only right one. The above mentioned 'Moorish', 'African', 'Romantic', and 'Old' periods in Domingo’s concept of Otello are only general indications – we can find a very 'Moorish' Otello in the 'African' period (e. g. Madrid, 1985), or a very 'African' one in the 'Romantic' period (Reggio Emilia, 1992). What we must realize, above all, is that all these interpretations are simultaneously present in every Domingo’s creation, and the differences between the them result merely from shifts of emphasis. In the tremendously difficult quartet in Act II, Otello reflects on the possible reasons of Desdemona’s unfaithfulness: 'Perhaps I am going down the valley of age, perhaps my skin is too dark, perhaps I am not familiar with the artifice of love…? ' Domingo demonstrates that at some moment each one of these reasons can be a possible catalyst for great tragedy.
There are three studio recordings of Domingo’s Otello made during the span of several years. The first one, made in 1978 with Renata Scotto and Sherrill Milnes, and wonderfully conducted by James Levine, is often said to be the best recording of Otello in the history of opera phonography. It was recorded in the golden era of co-operation between Domingo and Milnes, frequent partners on stage and in the studio. It is clear that they feel very well together in this recording, and their voices blend perfectly. The second 1985 recording, used as a sound track in Zeffirelli’s film, was conducted by Lorin Maazel with suprising mastery. The third Otello recording was definitely a casting disaster. Domingo, whose Otello is here perhaps the most thrilling recorded, was paired with Cheryl Studer, then very sought after but hopelessly academic as Desdemona, and Sergei Leiferkus, whose popularity then and now we fail to understand. So, while Desdemona and Iago seem to be doing something else, the seasoned giant, extremely concentrated, keeps singing for himself and for Verdi, and emanates enough emotion for all the three characters with every note full of thousandfold considerations and a special kind of unflinching, royal certainty (attained through years of experrience), that it must be done 'just so'. Myung-Whun Chung conducted the orchestra brillantly, bravely experimenting with tempi; very slow 'declamando' in Dio mi potevi scagliar masterly performed by Domingo is absolutely breathtaking (at the Opera Bastille Chung 'tortured' Domingo with even slower tempi, as if he wanted every note to be a tear on the velvet of silence).
As we said before Domingo created Otello on stage over 200 times; among these events were evenings of glory, as well as performances demanding all the artist’s strength to fight human weaknesses and illness. All of them, however, were unforgettable for the public. There was especially one evening, late night really, of September 3rd 1983, when Domingo, straight from a rehearsal of The Troians at the Met in New York crossed the whole continent – first in a helicopter from Lincoln Center to the airport, then further west in a rented airplane – and appeared as Otello in San Francisco Opera, thus saving its opening night (Carlo Cossutha felt unexpectedly ill and there was no one around to step in). Although the performance started very late, it was broadcasted live, so even after all these years we can appreciate that Domingo sang masterly, showing no trace of tiredness or self-indulgence, although his biological clock must have gone mad.
Over 25 years of work, two hundred performances on stage, three superb recordings… Gigantic artistic output, and it’s still too early for a final summing-up. On December 7th of this year, the 60-year-old Domingo will sing Otello at the opening night in La Scala, in the new production, prepared for him to commemorate Verdi’s Year. We hope it will be an event just as exciting as the indescribable Domingo’s debut in Otello 25 years ago, which gave rise to so many fears and emotions. At first, there was anxiety – some music critics predicted that such a heavy part, prematurely performed, could irreversibly destroy the voice of the young singer – and then, euphoria – reviews exulted in the vocal and dramatic unity of Domingo’s performance, in the subtle shading of the hero’s character, in the vocal perfection, which united dramatic expression and power of the voice with the beauty of belcanto. Subtlety. Intelligence. Humanity. 'He has become, at a stroke, the Otello of our time – full, realistic clarity of expression bound into belcanto line and beauty: of authoritative, impetous power when he hurls his Esultate!; of the most tender, subdued emotion in the great love duet; no holds barred in his furious obsession; of a melancholy tragedy and almost childlike helplessness, when he colapses over the dead Desdemona. Domingo’s Otello is neither hero nor madman, instead he is a strapping fellow with a vulnerable soul, a tender lover with a tendency to be mistrustful, a dark-complexioned man with an inferriority complex. To be sure, Domingo is a comparatively lyrical Otello. But inasmuch as his outbursts are neither lacking in power nor in passion, it makes for an Otello who is all the more human. The portrait of the happy man, the loving man, who is not alone and lost right from the start, and whose fall into an abyss of desperation seem all the deeper because of this. How this singer-actor puts the measure on Otello’s tortured soul, his emotional vacillation from euphoric happines to deepest despair and hatred, jealousy, thirst for revange, and remorse, how he portrays this man’s naivete and good nature, and his path to self-destruction – the masterpiece of vocal and histrionic role creation. This is music theatre in the truest and most genuine sense of the word. ' (excerpts from review: Stuttgarter Zeitung, Der Kurier [Austria], Opernwelt 1975, after Domingo’s Hamburg debut; translations from tenorissimo! @ rDs/.
What a great artist one must be to start with such a succes, and then, in the next 25 years, go on to improve – through constant searching, sensitivity and intelligence – his creation in so difficult a role! Someday, perhaps, a new excellent interpreter of Otello will appear on the operatic firmament. But any successor of Domingo will necessarily have to relate to him – or to build his portrayal against his performance, because Domingo has created a kind of canon, he has left his distinct stamp on the interpretation of Otello in the last quarter of the 20th century. Perhaps he has come closest to the Otello imagined by Verdi, who was afraid of the frigidity and insensibility of Tamagno. He was especially afraid of the duet in Act I, and the finale of the opera, afraid of the phrase E tu… come sei pallida, of Un bacio… un bacio ancora…, which should be sung 'gently, subtly, tenderly, just the way I imagined it writing the notes' (…). It is 'simplice per uno vero attore, ma difficile per un altro... ' (G. Verdi, Lettere 1835-1900, Mondadori, Milano 2000, p. 356; a letter to A. Boito, Jan. 21st 1886).
Jolanta Bukowińska, Jadwiga Piller