Opera Scotland

Otello Othello

Music
Giuseppe Verdi (born Busseto, 10 October 1813; died Milan, 27 January 1901)

Text
Arrigo Boito.

Source
Play Othello (1604-5) by William Shakespeare (1564-1616).

Premieres
First performance: Milan (Teatro alla Scala), 5 February 1887.
First UK performance: London (Lyceum), 5 July 1889.
First performance in Scotland: Glasgow (Theatre Royal), 15 November 1892.
Scottish Opera premiere: Glasgow (King’s Theatre), 27 May 1963.

Background
Verdi was a lifelong enthusiast for the works of Shakespeare, and the climax of his career was reached with his last two operas – a great tragedy based on Othello and a life-enhancing comedy, Falstaff, derived largely from The Merry Wives of Windsor. After the first performance of Aida in 1871, he lived a life of comfortable retirement, emerging from time to time to supervise revivals of his works. His only major new composition just before these final operas was the Requiem Mass in memory of the writer Manzoni, premiered in Milan in 1874.

His friend Arrigo Boito, a composer of note, was also a librettist. His text for La Gioconda had been set by Ponchielli and premiered at La Scala in 1876. Boito put considerable time and effort into his attempts to attract Verdi back to composition, and at last succeeded by persuading him to revise Simon Boccanegra, an extremely serious-toned piece whose success in 1857 had been limited. The revised version, with new scenes written by Boito, was a greater success at la Scala in 1881, and Verdi was eventually lured back to further work by the promise of an adaptation by Boito of one of Shakespeare’s great tragedies, Othello.

Main Characters
Otello, Governor of Cyprus (tenor)
Cassio, his deputy (tenor)
Iago, Otello’s ensign (baritone)
Desdemona, Otello’s wife (soprano)
Emilia, Iago’s wife and Desdemona’s companion (mezzo-soprano)
Roderigo, an officer infatuated with Desdemona (tenor)
Montano, retiring Governor of Cyprus (bass)
Lodovico, a Venetian envoy (bass)

Plot Summary
The plot uses a clever condensation of the play. Shakespeare’s first act, set in 15th century Venice, shows Desdemona, daughter of a senior Venetian aristocrat, eloping with Othello, a Moorish officer in Venice’s military service. In the opera, this is cut but for a few lines, and the action is located entirely in Cyprus. It shows the outcome of Iago’s hatred of Otello and jealousy of Cassio. Assisted by Roderigo, he provokes Cassio to be dismissed as the result of a drunken brawl with Montano. He then contrives to make Othello insanely jealous by planting the suspicion that Desdemona has been unfaithful with Cassio. The truth only emerges after Othello has killed Desdemona and he then kills himself out of remorse.

RECORDINGS

RCA (2 CDs) Sung in Italian Recorded 1978

Conductor: James Levine
London Symphony Orchestra
Placido Domingo (Otello), Renata Scotto (Desdemona), Sherrill Milnes (Iago).

Domingo recorded the role of Otello several times, either in the studio, live in the theatre, or for Zeffirelli’s cinema version. This is his first attempt not long after he first took the part into his repertoire. His interpretation gained more depth later on, but at this stage the sound he produces is simply thrilling. Renata Scotto is a wonderfully moving Desdemona. The rest of the cast support well

OPUS ARTE (1 DVD) Sung in Italian Recorded 1992

Conductor: George Solti Director: Elijah Moshinsky
Orchestra of Royal Opera House Designers: Timothy O’Brien & Peter J Hall
Placido Domingo (Otello), Kiri Te Kanawa (Desdemona), Sergei Leiferkus (Iago).

Elijah Moshinsky’s stagings of Verdi nearly always assist the performers in portraying the drama without getting in the way by attempting to dominate the stage. This is an excellent and stylish example that generally disguises the lack of budget funds well. By this time, Domingo had been singing Otello round the world for over fifteen years and his interpretation has gained real tragic depth, while the voice is still in prime condition. Kiri Te Kanawa, too, was an experienced Desdemona – she first sang the part in Glasgow in 1972 and it was the role of her Met debut soon after. Leiferkus does not have a natural Verdi voice, but he is a wonderfully wicked and plausible Iago. Altogether, this shows the Royal Opera on good form.

CHANDOS (2 CDs) Sung in English Recorded 1983

Conductor: Mark Elder
Orchestra of English National Opera
Charles Craig (Otello), Rosalind Plowright (Desdemona), Neil Howlett (Iago).

It is wonderful to have Charles Craig’s interpretation of Otello available on record, though there must be a sense of regret that it was left so near the end of his career. He sang this Everest of a role all over the world for twenty years before being invited to sing it in his native city. His voice is clearly no longer that of a military leader in his prime. Never mind, he knows what it can still do, the characterisation is designed to fit, and he does it well. The rest of the cast are excellent, with Rosalind Plowright very touching as Desdemona. Bonaventura Bottone and Neil Howlett both make it a matter of regret that they recorded so little.

RCA (2CDs) Sung in Italian Recorded 1947

Conductor: Arturo Toscanini NBC Symphony Orchestra Ramon Vinay (Otello), Herva Nelli (Desdemona), Giuseppe Valdengo (Iago).

This classic old recording is still valuable for Toscanini’s blazingly intense account of the score that no one else has quite matched since. The cast, probably scared half out of their wits, are generally fine.

The Cast

Cassio
 Otello's lieutenant
Desdemona
 Otello's wife
Emilia
 Iago's wife and Desdemona's companion
Herald
 
Iago
 Otello's ensign
Lodovico
 envoy of the Venetian republic
Montano
 predecessor of Otello in Cyprus
Otello
 a Moorish general, Venetian Governor of Cyprus
Roderigo
 a Venetian gentleman

© Copyright Opera Scotland 2017

Site by SiteBuddha