Verdi: Otello - Wilhelm Furtwangler
The requirements of running a festival must at times seem paradoxical: exceptional artists are gladly engaged time and again, but at the same time the uniqueness of their achievements is devalued by this repetition. One of the personalities who for years helped to mould the image of the Salzburg Festival was undoubtedly Wilhelm Furtwängler. But the fact that he conducted Verdi’s Otello in the summer of 1951, on the 50th anniversary of the composer’s death, was one of those coups that give a festival its particular appeal. At the helm of the Vienna Philharmonic, Furtwängler succeeded on the opening night in turning the audience’s surprise into enthusiasm. The thoroughly symphonic conception of this late opera score of Verdi’s was brilliantly transformed by Furtwängler into a kind of “psychological drama” of its title hero, sung by Ramón Vinay at the height of his vocal powers – a tireless heldentenor with a rich variety of shadings in his voice. As the scheming Iago, Paul Schöffler’s extraordinarily sophisticated baritone was his equal, just as Dragica Martini, at the beginning of her international career, proved a perfect Desdemona, possessed as she was of a most graceful soprano voice. Great pains had been taken to cast the production, right down to the less extensive roles (for example, Anton Dermota sang Cassio and Josef Greindl was Lodovico), and together with the chorus of the Vienna State Opera, which had been excellently prepared, the result was a performance of Otello that is regarded as exemplary to this day and is now available on CD, its sound fully restored.