The Moorish general Otello has been appointed Governor of Cyprus and married the beautiful young Venetian Desdemona. But their happiness is threatened when Otello's ensign Iago begins to hint that Desdemona has been unfaithful.
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With the World Shakespeare Festival in full swing, we take a look at the link between the Bard and the lyric stage.
The premiere of Otello in 1887 was a major event. Giuseppe Verdi – the most famous Italian opera composer of his day – was 73 and had not written an opera for 16 years. His adaptation of Shakespeare’s play was instantly acclaimed and is considered by many to be one of his greatest works. The subtlety and range of Otello’s score capture Shakespeare’s poetry and display all Verdi’s talents as a music dramatist.
Otello opens with a storm at sea, accompanied by a burst of orchestral dissonance. In Iago, Verdi conjures up a terrifying portrait of evil. Iago's nihilistic worldview is expressed in his devastating ‘Credo’, contrasting with the purity and beauty of Desdemona’s music. The deterioration of her marriage with Otello is mapped in three duets, from the ecstatic love duet in Act I to the harrowing final exchange in Act III. Elijah Moshinsky’s masterly production was created in 1987 with Plácido Domingo in the title role. It uses Renaissance designs to capture an atmosphere of opulence and evil in which the tragedy is played out.