Otello, Opera by G. Verdi
His second-last opera, Otello is one of the crown jewels in Giuseppe Verdi’s catalogue. With a powerful libretto by Arrigo Boito based on the gripping, violent drama Othello by the inimitable William Shakespeare, the work contains four acts of musical greatness and plot twists that turn up the suspense and tension to the highest level. The much-anticipated premiere took place on 5 February 1887 at the majestic Teatro alla Scala in Milan. Verdi had been growing nervous in the lead up to it and had reserved his right to pull the plug on short notice, but the debut performance of Otello was an epic success. The Maestro enjoyed no less than 20 curtain calls that confirmed audiences were still hungry for his music and their love for him had not faded during his hiatus since Aida of 1871. Teatro dell’Opera di Roma offers the intense drama on its stage in Rome this season.
Otello’s creation process was prolonged and made complicated by Verdi’s reluctance. It was publisher Giulio Ricordi’s initiative to bring the Maestro back out of his self-imposed retirement. Knowing Verdi’s great appreciation for William Shakespeare, Ricordi cleverly floated the idea of adapting Othello and was quick to capture the composer’s attention. Arrigo Boito joined as librettist and he and Verdi would work together, with most of the compositional work taking place between 1884 and 1886. As both of them were pleased with their collaboration, they finalised their draft in December 1886, allowing rehearsals at Teatro alla Scala to proceed.
Otello’s plot stays true to the Shakespeare original. At the centre of it all is Otello, the governor of Cyprus, and Iago, his secret nemesis who is ready to do anything to destroy him. Seeing the unbreakable love Otello shares with his wife Desdemona, Iago creates a horrible plan to drive the two apart. Through a series of tricks, lies and manipulations that destroy several innocent people’s lives, Iago manages to convince Otello that Desdemona has been having an affair with the head of his guard, Captain Cassio. Once loving and trusting, Otello turns into an ever more jealous, suspicious and cruel man who does not hold back from rash decisions and violence. As the opera reaches its tragic finale, audiences at Teatro Costanzi will be in awe of Shakespeare’s and Verdi’s combined storytelling talents.