Otello (Othello) (Giuseppe Verdi)
  • Giuseppe Verdi. Dramma lirico in four acts. 1887.
  • Libretto by Arrigo Boito, after Shakespeare's play Othello.
  • First performance at the Teatro alla Scala, Milan, on 5th February 1887.
CHARACTERS
Otello, a Moor, general of the Venetian army tenor
Iago, his ensign baritone
Cassio, his lieutenant tenor
Roderigo, a Venetian gentleman tenor
Lodovico, an ambassador of the Venetian Republic bass
Montano, Othello's predecessor as Governor of Cyprus bass
Herald baritone
Desdemona, wife of Othello soprano
Emilia, wife of Iago mezzo-soprano

The crowd awaits the arrival of Othello's ship from the storm. He reaches the harbour of Cyprus triumphant, victorious in battle and is greeted by the people. Iago suggests to Roderigo that he may soon have Desdemona, now wife of Othello, and, through jealousy, plots against Cassio, whom he makes drunk. A fight breaks out with Roderigo, in which Montano becomes involved. Othello is summoned by the general alarm and dismisses Cassio from his service. Othello and Desdemona sing of their love, as he takes her back again into their chamber. In the second act Iago persuades Cassio to seek reinstatement through Desdemona and kindles and feeds Othello’s jealousy, producing as final proof of her infidelity his report of what Cassio has said in his sleep and the handkerchief that she has dropped and that has been taken from Emilia by Iago. In the third act Desdemona unwittingly fuels Othello's anger and jealousy by continuing to plead for Cassio. Ambassadors from Venice recall Othello, with Cassio to be left in his place. Othello treats Desdemona cruelly, before the company, and Iago continues to play on his jealousy, the handkerchief now planted in Cassio's lodging. The last act is set in Desdemona's bedroom, where she seeks some comfort from Emilia. Woken from sleep by Othello, she again pleads her innocence, as he suffocates her. She can still murmur words to Emilia, when the latter brings news of Cassio's killing of Roderigo, seeking to excuse Othello. Lodovico gives a report of Roderigo's dying confession and Emilia tells of the handkerchief, convincing Othello of his tragic mistake. Seizing his sword, he kills himself.

Verdi's Otello is a major achievement, regarded by many as the greatest of his operas, completed sixteen years after his Aida and to be followed only by his second Shakespearean collaboration with Boito, Falstaff. The opening storm brings the cry of the chorus Una vela (A sail), as Othello's ship is seen, before he lands in triumph, with his victorious Esultate! (Rejoice). At the bonfire lit in celebration the people rejoice in another impressive chorus, Fuoco di gioia (Fire of joy). The great love duet that ends the first act, Già nella notte densa s'estingue ogni clamor (Already in dark night every sound is stilled) has its own inevitable irony, coming after the plotting of Iago and Roderigo and with a knowledge of what is to happen. In Iagos evil creed, Credo in un Dio crudel (I believe in a cruel God) he admits in a soliloquy his villainy and he later works on Othello's jealousy in his story of Cassio's dreaming, Era la notte (It was night). Othello, provoked by his ensign, resolves on his new course of action in Ora e per sempre addio, sante memorie (Now and for ever farewell, sacred memories) and with Iago sings the Oath Duet Sì, pel ciel marmoreo giuro! (Yes, by the marble heaven I swear). Othello reveals his feelings in a long soliloquy in the third act, Dio! mi potevi scagliar tutti i mali della miserià (God! You could hurl against me all the evils of wretchedness). The last act brings Desdemona's poignant Willow Song and prayer, with Othello's final death speech. Verdi reluctantly provided a ballet for the third act for performance in Paris in 1894.