In four acts by GIUSEPPE VERDI.
Text by ARRIGO BOITO, translated into the German by MAX KALBECK.
In his seventy-third year the Maestro has given to his time an opera,
which surpasses his former compositions in many respects. It proves,
that Verdi's genius has remained admirably fresh and that the new views
and revelations, which Wagner opened to the musical world have been
fully understood by the Italian. He has now broken with the unnatural
traditions of the Italian opera, and has in Othello given us a work,
which secures to him an honored place among the best dramatic composers.
It must not be omitted, that Verdi had a splendid second in the person
of Boito, the high-minded and capable composer of "Mefistofele". He
omits in his action all that is incidental, and as a consequence the
force of thought and expression is the more powerful. It is written
strictly after Shakespeare's original.
The opera was put on the stage in Munich in the summer of 1888 with
The first scene represents the people, following excitedly the course
of Othello's ship, which battles with the waves. After he has landed
and informed the assembly of his victory over the Turks, shouts of joy
and exultation rend the air.
Then follows a convivial chat between Cassio, Rodrigo and Jago, in the
course of which the latter makes Cassio drunk. Jago's demoniacal
nature is masterfully depicted here, where he soon succeeds in ruining
Cassio, who loses his rank as captain.
In the third scene we see Desdemona with her husband, both rejoicing in
the felicity of their mutual love.
In the second act Jago proceeds to carry out his evil intents, by
sending Cassio to Desdemona, who is to intercede for him with Othello.
Jago then calls Othello's attention to the retiring Cassio and by
making vile insinuations inflames his deadly jealousy. Desdemona
appears, surrounded by women and children, who offer her flowers and
presents. She comes forward to plead for Cassio, and Othello
suspiciously refuses.--She takes out her handkerchief to cool her
husband's aching forehead with it, but he throws it down and Emilia,
Jago's wife, picks it up. Jago wrenches it from her and hides it.
In the next scene Jago's villainous insinuations work upon Othello, who
becomes wildly suspicious. Jago relates a dream of Cassio's, in which
he reveals his love for Desdemona, then he hints that he has seen
Othello's first love-token, her lace-handkerchief in Cassio's hands,
and both swear to avenge Desdemona's infidelity.
In the third act Othello pretending to have a head-ache, asks for
Desdemona's lace-handkerchief. She has lost it, she tells him, but he
is incredulous and charges her with infidelity. All her protests are
useless, and at length he forces her to retire. Meanwhile Jago has
brought Cassio and urges Othello to hide himself. Cassio has a
lady-love named Bianca, and of her they speak, but Jago dexterously
turns the dialogue so as to make Othello believe that they are speaking
of his wife. His jealousy reaches its climax, when Cassio draws forth
Desdemona's handkerchief which Jago has deposited in Cassio's house.
All his doubts now seem to be confirmed. A cannon-shot announcing the
arrival of a galley interrupts the conversation and Cassio quickly
In the following scene Jago advises Othello to strangle his wife.
Othello consents and gives Jago a captaincy.
Lodovico, an Ambassador of Venice, arrives with other nobles to
greet their liberator Othello. Desdemona once more asks pardon for
Cassio, but is roughly rebuked by her husband. The latter reads the
order, which has been brought to him, and tells Cassio, that he is to
be General in his stead by will of the Doge of Venice, but while Cassio
is confounded by this sudden change of fortune, Jago secretly vows his
death, instigating his rival Rodrigo to kill him. At last Othello
faints, overcome by conflicting emotions.
In the fourth act Desdemona filled with sad forebodings takes a
touching farewell of Emilia. When she has ended her fervent prayer
(one of the most beautiful things in the opera), she falls into a
peaceful slumber. Othello awakes her with a kiss, and tells her
immediately thereafter that she must die. She protests her innocence,
but in vain, for Othello telling her that Cassio can speak no more,
smothers her. Hardly has he completed his ghastly work than Emilia
comes up, announcing that Rodrigo has been killed by Cassio. Desdemona
with her dying breath once more asserts her innocence, while Emilia
loudly screams for help. When the others appear, Emilia discovers her
husband's villany. Jago flies, and Othello stabs himself at the feet
of his innocent spouse.
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