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OTELLO, A TOUCHING TALE OF LOVE AND TRAGEDY
Composed by renowned Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi, this is a four-act opera that has always been well-received by audiences. Verdi had retired after the roaring success of his work Aida, and came out of retirement to compose this opera. It was first performed in 1887 at La Scala in Milan.
Based on Shakespeare's play Othello, it is a tragic story of love that meets an unfortunate and untimely end at the hands of betrayal and manipulation. It highlights effects of jealousy- both personal and political- on the lives of the characters. String, woodwind, brass and percussion instruments are used to portray different emotions. The love duets towards the beginning of the opera have been known to be particularly touching.
The story is set in Cyprus in the late 15th Century and revolves around the relationship between the General Otello and his wife Desdemona. The scheming Iago is the villain in the story and it is due to his machinations that the tragedy is brought about. The tale deals with the important issues of politics, love and treachery- all relevant topics even today.
It starts with a storm in the sea as the Cypriots anxiously await the return of their general from battle. The storm and the tension are beautifully portrayed with percussion and brass instruments. The ship lands safely and Otello conveys the news of their victory. This establishes his position of authority. Iago's jealous hatred for him is revealed. The General's loving relationship with Desdemona is highlighted with melodious love duets.
In Act 2
Iago carries out his scheme of ruining the General. Iago plants the seed of doubt in the General's mind by implying that Desdemona is unfaithful to him. Previously dishonoured Captain, Cassio is cleverly framed as Desdemona's lover. Desdemona petitions for Cassio to be reinstated to his title and this is portrayed as a sign of her devotion to Cassio. The General is consumed with fury when Iago tells him that he had seen Desdemona's handkerchief in Cassio's apartment.
It sees heightened action as Iago presents the stolen handkerchief as false proof. Blinded by jealousy, the General takes Iago's statements at their face value. He confronts Desdemona and is convinced of her guilt though she denies it. Anger and rage takes precedence over love.
Desdemona's beautiful prayer shows acceptance of her fate and heralds the tragic culmination of events. The General, in his anger, takes a step that he will soon regret. Iago's treachery is eventually revealed. A horrified Othello has a crushing moment of realisation, but it is already too late for the lovers. Melancholy notes underline the tragedy of the tale and brings the opera to a close.
Verdi's version of this famous Shakespearean play has been critically acclaimed and is definitely worth watching.
Otello, The General: Tenor
Desdemona, his wife: Soprano
Iago, his subordinate: Baritone
Cassio, dishonoured Captain: Tenor
Emilia, Iago's wife and Desdemona's maid: Mezzo Soprano
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