This 1986 film brings together tenor Placido Domingo, soprano Katia Ricciarelli, director Franco Zeffirelli, and the La Scala orchestra and chorus under conductor Lorin Maazel in a moving adaptation of Otello, the classic opera by Giuseppe Verdi (music) and Arrigo Boito (libretto). From the rhapsodic opening to the tragic conclusion, Domingo (Otello) and Ricciarelli (Desdemona) perform with power and warmth in a dubbed soundtrack while Zeffirelli's lenses tint the castle setting in chiaroscuro to reflect the shifting moods in the war between good and evil. Domingo, stately and imposing as the black Moor, sings with passion and élan without sacrificing control over his voice. Ricciarelli, elegantly beautiful as Otello's sincere and innocent wife, easily wins audience sympathy with her sweetly sorrowful voice and plaintive arias and duets. The two principals receive strong support from baritone Justino Diaz as Iago and mezzo-soprano Petra Malakova as Emilia. Although nominated for 1987 Golden Globe and Palme d'Or awards as Best Foreign Language Film, the production is not without weaknesses. For example, Zeffirelli amputates popular arias and enlists actors to lip-synch voices of studio artists. When Urbano Barberini (Cassio) opens his mouth, the soaring voice of tenor Ezio di Cesare comes out. And then there is the acting of Domingo. Though unquestionably a great tenor, he is only a passable thespian in spite of his charismatic presence. Too often, he over-smiles, over-frowns, over-gapes. Fortunately, his body language cannot affect his pre-recorded singing. The coup de grace -- for opera purists, at least -- is the altered fate of Iago. In the Boito libretto, he escapes. In the Zeffirelli revisionist libretto, Otello nails him with a spear. The weaknesses notwithstanding, this version of Otello is impressive overall, adeptly developing the themes of the Shakespeare play, based on a story by Italian dramatist Giambattista Giraldi, known as Cinthio.
by Mike Cummings review