All three principals are new to their roles in this recording – something either exhilarating or anxiety inducing depending on the listener. The actual result doesn’t inspire any extreme emotion, which is the problem. Lawrence Foster leads the Gulbenkian Orchestra in a clean reading, yet they have little feeling for the score’s sudden outbursts, the brilliant, gnarly strings, the moments of melting lyricism. Tempi are on the slow side, not helping the singers (and they need it) achieve a sense of forward propulsion.
Most disappointing is Nikolai Schukoff, whose tenor is brighter and lighter than most Otelli. This is not a role that he could credibly sing in a big house at the moment, and it sadly falls short here. But leaving aside the vocal inadequacies, Schukoff struggles to come to grips with the drama most. He manages to catch the mood in Niun mi tema (bar an overly histrionic groan), but this comes far too late in the day.
Lester Lynch is a solid Iago, but not much more than that. He has a tendency to apply too much pressure to his muscular voice, and lacks the sly playfulness of the best Iagos. Yet he is more sensitive to the words than our leading man, and has room to grow into the role.
The most dramatically alert of the three principals is Melody Moore, whose Desdemona is beautifully sung. She has an innate feel for the tricky Verdi recitative, and has every chance of becoming an impressive Desdemona. She just needs the right support first.