Giuseppe Verdi

Otello

Janáček Theatre / Opera 08/01/2023 17:00 - 19:40

Sung in original Italian with Czech, English and German surtitles.

Oh, the power of love, power that can turn a person into an animal

Storms are raging on the coast of Cyprus and the people have gathered in the port to watch in horror as a ship returning from a military campaign against the Turks attempts to make landfall. To everyone´s relief, the ship anchors safely and the crowd welcomes the victorious Otello. A stunning choral performance then ensues, dramatically commencing one of Verdi’s most famous operas, before the story moves on to the dangerous interplay of intrigues and jealousy that arise around Otello and his wife Desdemona thanks to the machinations of the treacherous Iago. Shakespeare´s famous tragedy has been staged for more than four hundred years, and it still hasn’t lost any of its relevance. Giuseppe Verdi was a great admirer of Shakespeare´s work, and he considered the possibility of setting one of his plays to music many times. Aside from his version of Macbeth, at the end of Verdi´s life he finally chose Otello. This time, he was lucky not only to have found an excellent topic, but also a great librettist, as his collaborator was none other than the Italian poet and composer Arrigo Boito, who helped him flesh out his ideas into an ideal form. Verdi´s penultimate opera is truly a masterpiece, with three-dimensionally depicted characters and grand choral scenes that alternate with intimate lyrical moments. The role of Otello tests the skills of the best of heroic tenors, as Verdi imbued it with every shade of the human soul – at first portrayed as a warrior, and then as a tender and loving man, Otello finally transforms into a wounded animal consumed by jealousy. This unique work by Verdi is returning to the Brno stage after more than thirty years away.

Premiere: 17th June 2022 at the Janáček Theatre

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2 h 40 min, one interval

Synopsis of the Opera

Act 1

A raging storm assaults Otello’s ship as it returns from a battle. Everyone watches her fight against the elements, with only Otello’s aide, Iago, hoping she will be wrecked. The ship prevails, sailing safely into the harbour, and Otello announces victory over the Turkish fleet.

Iago feels ignored, and the promotion of young Cassio to the rank of Captain only increases his desire for revenge. Roderigo, who loves Otello’s wife Desdemona, crosses his path. Iago promises to help him get her. When everyone is celebrating the victory, Iago and Roderigo try to get Cassio drunk. He refuses the wine at first, but eventually he succumbs. Montano arrives to order Cassio out on patrol, but finds him drunk. Iago slyly tells Montana that Cassio spends every night like this. The situation results in a scuffle in which Montano is injured. The commotion attracts Otello, who demotes Cassio. Desdemona also arrives. Otello sends Iago on patrol and finally stays with Desdemona alone.

 

Act 2

Iago urges Cassio to speak to Desdemona. Her intercession could help him get his rank back. Arriving, Otello sees Desdemona talking to Cassio. Iago makes an innocuous remark and gives Otello evasive answers to his questions. In the end, he suggests that Cassio is having an affair with her. Despite his suspicions, Otello asks for clear proof of Desdemona’s infidelity.

Desdemona arrives and wishes to talk to Otello about Cassio. He refuses, but Desdemona insists on him forgiving Cassio. Otello makes excuses, claiming that he has a headache, and Desdemona offers him a scarf he once gave her. Otello throws it away in anger. Desdemona begs him for forgiveness and reminds him of her faithful love. Emilia picks up the discarded scarf, and Iago takes it from her by force. Otello sends everyone away. Iago returns, and Otello, overcome by the thought that Desdemona is cheating on him, asks for specific proof again. Iago invents a story, saying that he heard Cassio talking in his sleep to Desdemona about their love, and mentions that he saw a scarf with him which Otello had given to Desdemona as the first proof of his love. Otello swears revenge, and Iago joins him.

 

Act 3

A herald announces the arrival of a Venetian envoy. Desdemona arrives and begs Otello again to forgive Cassio. He asks for the scarf he gave her. Desdemona doesn’t have it with her, and Otello warns her – the scarf is a talisman, and if she loses it, it will bring misfortune. Desdemona doesn’t understand Otello’s behaviour and his accusation of infidelity. She insists that she is his faithful wife. Otello chases her away in a fit of uncontrollable rage. Iago brings Cassio under the pretext of a meeting with Desdemona so that Otello can secretly listen to their conversation. Iago

cleverly speaks about Cassio’s affair with another girl in such a way that for Otello, who hears only parts of the conversation, it casts Desdemona in a bad light. Cassio also mentions the mysterious scarf which he found in his room. He pulls it out at Iago’s urging and Otello recognizes his present for Desdemona. The trumpets announce the arrival of the envoy. Cassio leaves and angry Otello asks Iago for advice on how to kill Desdemona. Iago suggests strangling her on the bed where she betrayed him. He will take care of Cassio himself.

The envoy Lodovico arrives with Desdemona, Emilia and the whole court. Lodovico is surprised by Cassio’s absence. Iago reveals that he has fallen out of favour. Desdemona expresses hope that he will be forgiven soon, which irritates Otello even more. Cassio is called, and Otello reads a message from the Doge – he is being called back to Venice, and Cassio is to become the Governor of Cyprus. Otello, tormented by his emotions, humiliates Desdemona in front of everyone gathered there. Iago urges him to take his revenge as soon as possible. Roderigo is sad at Desdemona’s departure, and Iago advises him to kill Cassio. Otello chases everyone away and faints in a state of extreme agitation. While the crowd outside proclaiming his glory has no idea of what is really afoot, Iago enjoys his moment of triumph.

 

Act 4

Desdemona is preparing to go to bed. She asks Emilia to bring her wedding dress. If she dies, she wants to be buried in it. Desdemona falls asleep and Otello comes in, ready to kill her.  Desdemona begs him for mercy, but Otello refuses and accuses her of infidelity with Cassio. She denies it and asks for Cassio to testify her innocence. Otello announces that Cassio is already dead, and strangles Desdemona. Emilia knocks on the door with the news that Cassio has killed Roderigo in a fight. Desdemona’s voice can be heard, and she dies innocent. Otello confesses to the murder. Cassio and Emilia reveal Iago’s intrigues. Iago escapes, and Otello takes his own life.

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Production team

Arrigo Boito Libretto
Robert Kružík Conductor
Martin Glaser Director
Pavel Borák Set Design
Markéta Sládečková Costume Design
Martin Špetlík Lighting Design
Pavel Koňárek Chorus Master

Cast

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