William Shakespeare died 400 years ago, yesterday. In many ways Shakespeare and opera is a match made in heaven. The greatest operatic performance I ever saw was when the Met was on tour in Atlanta. I think it was the late, legendary John Vickers who was to do Otello. He became ill. Richard Cassilly, my all-time favorite tenor, stepped in, to fill the roll. The previous evening he had done Tannhauser. I was still quite new to opera at the time, but even I knew what I was seeing. As word began to circulate that he was going to do the one-two punch, opera junkies were trying to snag what few tickets remained. Tony Randell even flew in from NYC for the performance. Of course, I was more interested in the baritone: Sherrill Milnes. His Iago was amazing, diabolical, manipulative, and a character who progressed from ambitious to diabolical. Then there was his Hamlet. (sigh) Otello is one of those operas which requires a healthy dose of testosterone.
Sherrill Milnes & Placido Domingo
John Vickers & Cornell MacNeil
Jussi Björling & Robert Merrill
I am limiting myself to Verdi’s Otello. I love that opera. Next Sunday is a Willow Song smackdown. I am highly prejudiced when it comes to Otello. I don’t think the Milnes/Domingo version of Si, pel ciel can be topped, but then I listened to the Björling/Merrill version. Merrill is amazing. I must now call my mother and admit that her favorite baritone may have the best rendition of this one. Ick. My problem with Robert Merrill is I can’t picture him doing anything dramatic or evil. He was always such a prankster. His lower register is amazing! Watch his Credo. He just can’t pull it off, rather like Miss Piggy, a total ham!