Verdi's 'Otello' Next Met Offering
Improve upon Shakespeare? Heresy, you say? Perhaps not.
Giuseppe Verdi's opera "Otello," showing Saturday, Oct. 27, at the Sunrise Theater in downtown Southern Pines, at 12:55 p.m., may be a candidate for improving upon the Bard's play.
Verdi set (with the help of librettist Arrigo Boito) Shakespeare's play "Othello" for the operatic stage. Verdi had been a lifelong devotee of Shakespeare's work, having already set his play "Macbeth" to music and having worked at doing the same with "King Lear" and, later, an adaptation of "The Merry Wives of Windsor," named "Falstaff."
The opera begins with a storm as Otello's ship approaches the shores of Venice. A crowd, including his men Jago, Cassio and Montano, awaits his return. Otello (performed by heldentenor Johan Botha) greets them with one of the more difficult entrances in the repertoire, saying the Turks have been vanquished.
Soon, the slippery Jago (performed by the bass-baritone Falk Struckmann) encourages his professional rival, Cassio, to drink to the point of causing a brawl. Otello enters and commands that they all put up their swords. Cassio is relieved of his duty (to Jago's delight), and all save Otello's bride, Desdemona (sung by Renee Fleming), exit. Otello and Desdemona sing an extraordinary love duet that ends with his tenderly asking for just one more kiss.
The beginning of the second act is one of the large departures from the Shakespeare: Jago has a soliloquy. Even though operatic, this is far more of a speech than an aria in which Jago professes his belief in a cruel god, and states that death is nothing and heaven is but an old wives' tale.
The entirety of the balance of act two consists ultimately of a duet between Jago and Otello in which Jago suggests that a liaison exists between Desdemona and Cassio.
Jago continually works his poison as Otello's rage builds, culminating in Otello's thrice-repeated call for blood and a thrilling cabaletta (a passionate and dramatic conclusion to an operatic scene) which closes the act and sees Jago and Otello swear vengeance upon on the innocent Desdemona.
The third act sees Otello's jealousy build as Desdemona continues to sue for (the innocent) Cassio to be reinstated. Desdemona does not understand her husband's anger and suspicion, and responds to his brutal accusation of infidelity by asking him to witness the first tears she has ever shed through grief.
As Desdemona leaves, Otello has his only soliloquy of the opera; as with Jago's solo, aria is not quite the correct word for this new type of composition.
Otello then witnesses a conversation between Cassio and Desdemona which his jealous mind sees as confirmation of his suspicions. A call of trumpets (a Verdi signature) heralds the entrance of Venetian ambassadors. Throughout this final scene, Otello's attacks on Desdemona's character grow, culminating with his throwing her to the floor.
Her lament, accompanied by the ambassadors, fills the hall until Otello curses her one final time and collapses in a faint as Jago sneers at his weakness.
The final and most painful act opens on Desdemona in her bedroom, where she sings the famous "Willow Song" to comfort herself. She bids farewell to Emilia, her handmaiden and Jago's wife and unwilling accomplice, and kneels to offer an Ave Maria, asking that the mother prega per noi (pray for us).
A terrifying double bass solo accompanies Otello's entrance to the bedroom. The theme from the first act love duet begins as Otello kisses his sleeping bride. She awakes after three kisses and begins the final duet of the opera. It is filled with his raging accusations and her protestations of innocence until Otello suffocates her.
Emilia enters to find the dying Desdemona who, with her last breath, defends Otello. The room is then filled by the other players who reveal Jago's plot and, thereby, Desdemona's innocence. Otello, overcome by grief and the recognition of his failure and his loss of his beloved wife and his own glory, stabs himself.
As he drags his dying body to Desdemona, the final repetition of the love duet from act I ensues and Otello, with his last breath, asks for one final kiss.
For tickets, which are $25, visit www.
sunrisetheater.com or call the administrative office at (910) 692-8501. All seating is reserved.
There will be an encore presentation Wednesday, Nov. 7, at 1 p.m. Tickets are also $25, but it is general admission.
The Sunrise Theater is located at 250 NW Broad St. in downtown Southern Pines. It is a nonprofit organization.
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