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Watch: Why performing Verdi's Otello ranks among opera's greatest challenges

As the Shakespearean opera returns to the stage, Antonio Pappano reveals what makes the piece 'an Everest'.

By Asher Korner (Former Assistant Content Producer)

23 May 2017 at 11.00am | 2 Comments

'It's an Everest for a conductor... It's beautifully put together, and yet it remains one of the biggest challenges for any musician'.

Antonio Pappano, Music Director of the Royal Opera House, has conducted Verdi's Otello numerous times but, as reflected in this archive clip, remains in awe of the incredible sophistication of the opera's orchestral score and the way in which it uses 'simple' techniques to reflect complex emotions.

In the opening scene, the people of Cyprus are watching a stormy sea battle between the Turkish army and the Cypriot forces, anxiously awaiting the arrival of Otello, their new governor. Given that the battle scene takes place offstage, Verdi relied on his music to influence the audience's perception of the storm and battle and to illustrate its scale:

'The people of Cyprus see Otello and this battle in the distance... We don't see it, but the fact that we don't creates an even greater image'.

The composer plunges the audience into the raging storm with a sound-world that conjures lightening and thick fog, as well as the watching crowd's feelings of uncertainty and fear. Pappano describes this clever combination of simple melodies as 'the economy of means', something which carries through to the best-known theme in the opera: the love theme at the end of Act 1 which uses beautiful harmonies and subtle patterns to create the feeling of being overwhelmed by happiness.

Watch more films like this by subscribing to the Royal Opera House YouTube channel:

Otello runs 21 June—15 July 2017 . Tickets are still available for some performances.

This production is staged with generous support from Rolex, and with generous philanthropic support from Lord and Lady Laidlaw, Mrs Susan A. Olde OBE, Mrs Aline Foriel-Destezet, Alfiya and Timur Kuanyshev, Mr and Mrs Baha Bassatne, John G. Turner & Jerry G. Fischer, Ian and Helen Andrews, Mercedes T. Bass, Maggie Copus, Mrs Trevor Swete, Beth Madison, John McGinn and Cary Davis, the Otello Production Syndicate, The Royal Opera House Endowment Fund and an anonymous donor.

By Asher Korner (Former Assistant Content Producer)

23 May 2017 at 11.00am

This article has been categorised Opera and tagged Antonio Pappano, by Giuseppe Verdi, by Keith Warner, conducting, insight, Music, orchestra, Otello, Othello, Production, ROH Insight, ROH Insights, score, William Shakespeare

This article has 2 comments

  1. Sarah Turnage responded on 25 May 2017 at 9:33pm Reply

    Maestro Pappano gives us real insight and feeling for this great opera of Verdi. He is so knowledgeable - knows all the music intimately - lets us hear the most beautiful parts - I love this wonderful man!

  2. Randolph Magri-Overend responded on 26 May 2017 at 12:19pm Reply

    Otello is the penultimate Verdi opera...and it proves to be one of his best, regardless that it is an opera that was composed in his 'vechia' years. His use of brass is superb, his arias, though sparse, are tempered with a realisation that the drama takes precedence. Truly a perfect opera!

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