When Otello premiered at La Scala, Milan in 1887, critics flocked from all over Europe to hear Verdi's first new work in 15 years. They were rewarded with one of his late-period masterpieces, sometimes hailed as being artistically on a par with Shakespeare's Othello, from which it derives. The tenor role of Otello is also widely regarded as the most difficult in Italian opera, such are the demands it makes on the vocal resources and physical stamina of the singer, and top-flight Otellos have been hard to find. The likes of Giovanni Martinelli and Ramon Vinay were famous Otellos of the '30s and '40s, but in the recent past Madrid's finest, Placido Domingo, has made the part his own. His dark, commanding tone makes him master of the stage and the unfolding tragedy draws out his considerable dramatic skills. In this performance, Mirella Freni sings Desdemona, under the baton of the late, much-lamented Carlos Kleiber.
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