12 June 2017 at 10.03am | 4 Comments
The story begins…
The Moorish general Otello is ecstatically happy with his young bride Desdemona. However, Otello’s trusted advisor Iago begins to drop hints that Desdemona is unfaithful. Who will Otello believe: his comrade, or his wife?
Faithful to Shakespeare's play
Verdi described Shakespeare as ‘a favourite poet of mine’, read his works constantly and had various plans for operas based on Shakespeare plays. However, with the exception of Macbeth in 1847, none of these came to fruition until, in 1879, his publisher Giulio Ricordi offered him a libretto by the composer and writer Arrigo Boito, based on Shakespeare’s Othello. Boito and Verdi stuck closely to Shakespeare’s story, while cutting Act I and a few minor characters to tighten it for an operatic context. Verdi was delighted by Boito’s subtlety as a writer, and went on to collaborate with him on his third, and last, Shakespearean opera, Falstaff.
An opera of contrasts
Verdi reflects Otello’s dramatic focus on the struggle between good and evil through contrasting music. For example, the radiant, tender beauty of Otello and Desdemona’s Act I duet is a world apart from the savagery and jocular malevolence Iago expresses in his chilling Act II ‘Credo’. While Desdemona’s continuously lyrical music reflects her integrity and Iago’s treachery is communicated through constantly shifting styles, Verdi portrays Otello’s mental disintegration by a gradual musical transformation. His decline can be heard in the transition from the noble dignity of his Act I entrance to the broken phrases of his Act III monologue ‘Dio! mi potevi scagliar’.
A production that highlights the psychological drama
Director Keith Warner’s production explores Otello’s gradual mental collapse, as the malevolent Iago’s machinations cause him to lose all confidence in himself and his wife’s love, and his identity fragments. Boris Kudlíčka’s semi-abstract sets use light and dark colours to mirror the contrasting innocence of Desdemona and evil of Iago. The production also explores the relationships between Moors, Turks and Westerners in Shakespeare’s time, examining Otello’s position as an outsider.
One of Verdi's great successes
Otello received its premiere at La Scala, Milan, on 5 February 1887. The performance was a major event, attended by critics from all over the world. It was a triumph, with the opera regarded as one of Verdi’s greatest, and the singers – particularly Victor Maurel as Iago – highly praised. The opera has remained part of the mainstream repertory ever since.
Otello runs 21 June–15 July 2017. Tickets are still available.
The production is generously supported by Rolex and is given with generous philanthropic support from Mrs Aline Foriel-Destezet, Mrs Susan A. Olde OBE, Alfiya and Timur Kuanyshev, Lord and Lady Laidlaw, Mr and Mrs Baha Bassatne, John G. Turner and Jerry G. Fischer, Ian and Helen Andrews, Mercedes T. Bass, Maggie Copus, Martin and Jane Houston, Mrs Trevor Swete, Beth Madison, John McGinn and Cary Davis, the Otello Production Syndicate, The American Friends of Covent Garden, The Royal Opera House Endowment Fund and an anonymous donor.