“Instead of Otello being an Italian opera written in the style of Shakespeare, Othello is a play written by Shakespeare in the style of Italian opera. “ George Bernard Shaw.
Today, February 5 is the Birthday Anniversary of Verdi/Boito’s masterpiece Otello! Verdi/Boito’s Otello premiered on February 5 of 1887 at Teatro alla Scala in Milan. And once again the genius of Verdi did it, he gave us another masterpiece for the Opera but he didn’t do it alone, he did it with the colaboration of the extraordinary and very erudite librettist, poet and also composer, a true Renaissance man (and another hero of mine!) Arrigo Boito, in which like Verdi, he had a huge passion for Shakespeare. Verdi gave us the mastepiece of the music and Boito gave us the masterpiece with the libretto and that is why I always mention this opera.. “Otello” to “Verdi/Boito’s Otello… because this masterpiece would not have been possible without the collaboration of one and another. But first, we must thank to the opera “Simon Boccanegra” for Otello, why? Because “Simon Boccanegra” was the opera that reunited for the first time the incredible team of Verdi/Boito (How I wish that they could have made more operas together!) Without the revision of Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra, Verdi’s final masterpieces (and both based on Shakespeare), Otello and Falstaff would not have been possible. Why I consider Otello one of my top all time favorite operas and one of the finest works of art of Verdi, along with Don Carlo and Rigoletto? For many wonderful things, the orchestration which is one of the most perfect and most complex ever in history of Italian Opera. Here are my favorite musical moments from Otello, which are so many! The way how Otello begings with the magnificent and chilling Storm Chorus… “Una vela!” which is one of the strongest and most powerful opening moments ever in history of Opera and it is like a prelude… a violent prelude of what is going to happen in the story… (For me and many others, I compare this storm chorus to Verdi’s powerful “Dies Irae” from his also majestic “Requiem” which also gives many goosebumps and only a genius like Verdi could give us so many tense and strong choruses!) and after the glorious and chilling and unforgettable opening chorus… we go to a little calm and then we go to Iago’s fabulous drinking song in which is an apparently “happy song” but there is a lot of darkness behind this “Happy Drinking song…”Inaffia l’ugola!”… the orchestration, the singing of the chorus leaded by the baritone villain who performs Iago, all is a masterpiece itself (and one of my personal favorite drinking songs!) later we go to one of the most beautiful love duets ever… and heartbreaking too because we know that there is no going to be a happy ending with this couple… Otello and Desdemona. Later we go to probably one of the greatest, most chilling arias ever for a Baritone… “Credo”, in which this aria reflects who is Iago. I remember many excellent discussions about the nature of Iago and why he is like that… many questions… little answers… “Credo” is our answer to our questions of why Iago does the things that he does. With “Credo”, Iago is completely “introduced” to us and this aria, along with Scarpia’s “Va, Tosca, te Deum” is one of the most chilling arias for an Opera villain. I will make a step larger so to not to make this post large… my other favorite operatic moment is Otello’s and Iago’s duet…. “Si pel Ciel”, which is a marathon itself to sing that duet and we need the best tenor and the best Baritone to sing to perfection this duet.
There are differences of course between Shakespeare’s book “Othello” and Verdi’s Otello”. In the Opera we open as we all know with the chilling thunder storm….in the book, the storm appears at the start of Act 2. Iago’s version in Verdi’s Otello is more, more evil and it is more developed as a villain than in the book. (So it was that at the beginning Verdi was thinking of naming the opera… “Iago”) later we go to one of the most dramatic, most complex, most perfect moments ever in history of Opera…the entire act 3 which is a complete Olympic marathon for all singers… at the final dramatic moments of act 3, the final chorus ensemble in act 3, yes, Verdi did it again! All are singing and expressing their human emotions at the same time… only a Genius like Verdi can do that! ❤ Then we go to the final act IV, with one of the most dramatic arias ever for a Soprano, Desdemona’s Willow song… “Sauce, Sauce, Sauce”…..and of course as we know, Desdemona ends her aria with her prayer “Ave Maria”. And to make this post shorter… of course we finish with the famous dramatic ending that we all know, the ending that makes us sad and angry and that makes us cry…making it one of the greatest tragedies of history of Opera and literature and theater. From the beginning we meet a hero, Otello and at the end, we see his dramatic fall. Many of us get angry why Otello believes more in Iago than in Desdemona, we ask to ourselves why he is so blind? Well, unfortunately, that is human nature. And many human beings can fall also in the same trap just like Otello did. And both Shakespeare and Verdi/Boito gave us the perfect lesson of humanity with this tragic story. which makes it the perfect masterpiece of what it is. This tragedy teaches us so much about the soul of humanity, and I highly recommend to read both the book and also watch the Opera (with their differences of course, but both the book and Opera are a true work of art) Verdi/Boito’s Otello is the clear example of what the perfect combination of what Opera is…. Greek tragedy, Literature, drama, poetry, music… in other words… the perfect definition of what a group of extraordinary intellectuals in Renaissance Florence …“The Florentine Camerata” wanted to do by reviving the Greek tragedies and giving birth to our big passion that is…. “OPERA”. Otello, is (along with Don Carlo and Mozart/da Ponte’s trilogy and Wagner’s operas) ….what I call the true OPERA. And I also consider Otello a “total work of art” (Remembering Wagner’s own concept) Musically, “Otello” is a true work of art, a masterpiece and with so many contrasting and yet complex and beautiful operatic moments…. The opening storm chorus, Iago’s drinking song and Credo, the children’s chorus for Desdemona…and the dramatic chorus ensemble in act III and Desdemona’s Willow Song… Verdi’s Otello is a true example of his maturity as a composer along with the final culmination of Falstaff. We are so happy that Verdi didn’t retire and that, thanks to Arrigo Boito, who was another genius, he gave us this masterpiece of history of music.
(I don’t wish to be in the shoes of the Tenor/Soprano and Baritone who have the three leading roles, singing “Otello” is like doing the Olympic games!)
Happy Birthday… Verdi/Boito’s Otello!!!
Here is my favorite recording of Verdi/Boito’s Otello, with Placido Domingo, Sherrill Milnes and Renata Scotto: Part I
And Part II: