Otello, Opera by G. Verdi
Thank goodness for Arrigo Boito and Giulio Ricordi, it was only due to their persistence, as his librettist and publisher respectively, that Giuseppe Verdi came out of virtual retirement to create Otello and finally realise his vision for opera, unshackled by the conventions of the past. Or so we are led to believe. Maybe Verdi did not have to have his arm twisted as much as the record suggests. Shakespeare had, by his own admission, always been close to his heart.
Anticipation in the audience was high for Otello’s first night at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan on 5 February 1887. They were not to be disappointed. For many Otello is the high watermark of Verdi’s compositional career; the point at which the composer discovered how to harness every note of the music to the drama of the story.
In the tale, the celebrations that follow Otello’s exploits in battle are quickly dimmed by the machinations of his own court. The embittered Iago, angry that Cassio has been favoured over him for a promotion, seeks revenge by encouraging Roderigo’s pursuit of Otello’s wife, Desdemona. And so begins a tragic sequence of events orchestrated by Iago, a study in evil beyond even Shakespeare’s imagining, that drive Otello to murder his wife and Cassio, whom Otello has been led to believe is Desdemona’s lover, being eliminated by Roderigo.
Otello contains melodies as gorgeous and haunting as any that Verdi wrote, but what marks them apart from those of his earlier works is that they do not resort to repetition. When Wagner used similar techniques, their purpose was to suspend time; in Otello, they drive the action forwards. A long-standing favourite at the Vienna State Opera, Otello promises a compelling evening of opera that will hold your attention for every single second.