23 November 2023

P.R. Jenkins

Karajan artists: Mario del Monaco – a legendary Otello

“Del Monaco is perhaps more believable as the Venetian general, being the one likely to have done the heroic deeds predicated by Desdemona. And in this, his second recording of the opera, he is far more moving and subtle than in his first for Decca.”

Alan Blyth in Gramophone

Even though Karajan was not an Italian maestro, his authority in the Verdi repertoire was so undisputed that he was able to cast the best singers for his first “Otello” recording in 1961. Mario del Monaco was often described as the greatest Otello of the mid-20th century, so Karajan chose him for the title role.

Del Monaco sang the part more than 200 times in his career and – in accordance with his own wishes – he was buried in his Otello costume. In 1957, Karajan and del Monaco had performed the opera 6 times at the Vienna State Opera with Leonie Rysanek as Desdemona in a new production directed by Karajan. Four years later, they met again in the Vienna “Sofiensäle” to record “Otello” for DECCA, this time with Renata Tebaldi. The recording was planned as a sensation but the sessions were difficult. The cannon shots at the beginning always came in the wrong moment and “the Otello, Mario del Monaco, was nowhere to be found. Karajan started without him. When del Monaco finally showed up, Karajan willed him into singing the ‘Esultate!’ of his life, after which he affected to make a succession of retakes during which he cut the orchestra from under him every time he reached the G sharp on ‘L’orgoglio’. It was the musical equivalent of six of the best. (Richard Osborne)”

Karajan and del Monaco never worked together again, but the “Otello” recording is still in the catalogues.

Karajan’s 1960 recording of “Die Fledermaus” featured a number of star guests in a gala scene in the second act. Mario del Monaco performed the gloriously schmaltzy song “Passione” by Vincenzo Alente.

Richard Osborne: “Karajan. A Life in Music” Chatto & Windus, London. 1998

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