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Otello Otello

Composed by Giuseppe Verdi

Conducted by James Conlon

May 13 – June 4, 2023

At the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion

Verdi meets Shakespeare in the crowning achievement of Italian opera.

He's a beloved leader, a distinguished military commander and a devoted husband. But when an envious subordinate introduces the notionjust the slightest whispered hintthat Othello's wife Desdemona might possibly be unfaithful, it's enough to send him into a downward spiral of fury and murder.

Hailed as the pinnacle of the Italian operatic repertoire, Verdi’s transformation of the original Shakespeare play is a powerful drama of uncontrolled human emotion at its most extreme. Verdi's musical portrait of Otello’s descent into a tortured heart of darkness is explicit in every chilling detail as he destroys all in life that he holds dear.

Verdi master James Conlon takes command of the truly epic musical forces. The powerhouse cast is led by Artist in Residence Russell Thomas in the title role (considered the "Mount Everest" of the dramatic tenor repertoire). Rachel Willis-Sørensen makes a highly anticipated company debut as the doomed Desdemona and Igor Golovatenko is the sadistic Iago, slyly explpoiting Otello's one fatal flaw: jealousy.

Sung in Italian with English subtitles.

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Russell Thomas: "His farewell to glory in act two was exceptionally fine and the personal annihilation he achieved in the final scene was shattering. It is a searing and overdue interpretation."

Martin KettleThe Guardian (UK)

Listen to Otello's dramatic Act 1 entrance ("Esultate!"), with the chorus cheering his stunning victory over an enemy fleet.

Cast

Otello
Russell Thomas
Desdemona
Rachel Willis-Sørensen
Iago
Igor Golovatenko
Lodovico
Morris Robinson
Cassio
Anthony Ciaramitaro
Emilia
Sarah Saturnino
Montano
Alan Williams
Herald
Ryan Wolfe

Creative Team

Conductor
James Conlon
Original Production
John Cox
Director
Joel Ivany
Scenery & Costumes
Johan Engels
Chorus Director
Jeremy Frank

Read the synopsis

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Synopsis

A seaport in Cyprus at the end of the 15th century

The historic struggle between Christian and Muslim naval forces for control of the eastern Mediterranean is now between the Republic of Venice and the Ottoman Turks, its principal objective the island of Cyprus, currently occupied by Venice. The commander of the Venetian fleet is Otello, who is also the governor of Cyprus. Unusually, Otello is a Moor, a Muslim who has converted to Christianity, married a noble Venetian and risen to the highest rank in the Venetian armed forces.

Act One
Otello, having defeated the Turkish fleet, must conquer a ferocious storm before reaching port. The Cypriot people and the Venetian garrison join in hailing this double victory, and glorify Otello. The people and the sailors light a bonfire in celebration while Otello withdraws to be reunited with his wife, Desdemona.

Present is Iago, Otello’s ensign. He is at heart a bitter racist and wills Otello’s downfall. Despite his apparent devotion to his master, Iago hates Otello because he has promoted Cassio to captain instead of him. Roderigo, a Venetian nobleman, is in love with Desdemona; Iago offers to help him to woo her away from her husband. When the wine begins to flow, he next shames the young Cassio into drinking too much. Cassio is very close to Otello, having acted as his go-between in the courtship of Desdemona. In his drunken state, Cassio assaults Roderigo and a brawl ensues in which he wounds Montano, a fellow officer. Otello appears and restores order, but demotes and dismisses Cassio.

The people depart, leaving Otello alone with Desdemona. They explore the nature and quality of their profound love for one another. It is clear that for Otello, this amounts to a form of worship.

Intermission

Act Two
Iago convinces the miserable Cassio that the way back to Otello’s favor is through Desdemona, who is shortly expected here in the garden. Alone, Iago expounds his belief in the supremacy of evil and in his destiny to perpetrate it. Death comes as the end; there is nothing beyond it.

Cassio engages Desdemona in conversation just as Otello arrives. Iago pretends to be suspicious of their encounter, then to dismiss such thoughts. Desdemona is greeted by an adoring group of islanders and their children bringing flowers and gifts. They obviously revere and love her. By warning Otello against jealousy, Iago succeeds in planting the germ of doubt in Otello’s mind, so that when Desdemona pleads Cassio’s case he is uncommonly harsh with her and shows signs of stress. She tried to comfort him with the handkerchief he had given her as a token of his love. He snatches it impatiently and throws it down. When Emilia, her companion, retrieves it, Iago demands it from her. She mistrusts his motive and refuses his demand, but in the end he forces it from her.

After the women have departed, Iago starts on Otello in earnest. He pretend to have heard Cassio having an erotic dream about Desdemona  and also to have seen Desdemona’s handkerchief in Cassio’s possession—introducing the handkerchief strategy only minutes after Otello has handled it himself. Such is the vulnerability of Otello to the idea of female dishonor.

Iago has snared Otello. They join in an oath of vengeance which invokes the whole of creation, the very same cosmic reach which Otello had earlier ascribed to his love for Desdemona.

Intermission

Act Three
A herald announces the arrival of a ship bringing an ambassador from Venice. Iago must work quickly to achieve his evil purpose. Otello demands proof positive of Desdemona’s infidelity, which Iago promises he shall have from Cassio himself. Desdemona appears and once more makes a plea for Cassio’s forgiveness. Otello again shows signs of stress and asks her to soothe his brow—with the handkerchief he gave her (the one stolen earlier by Iago). He describes its rare, magic power and warns her against ever losing it, before dismissing her crudely.

Alone, Otello complains to God that he could have borne any other disgrace but this, to lose the haven of his soul’s repose. If she is truly guilty, death is the only punishment. But he must have the final proof.

Iago brings Cassio and they converse frivolously about Cassio's mistress Bianca. Otello watches, just out of earshot; he observes their humorous banter and assumes they are laughing about Desdemona. Cassio describes finding a mysterious handkerchief in his quarters and shows it to Iago, who makes sure that Otello sees it also. This is all the proof Otello needs.

Meanwhile, the Venetian ambassador Lodovico and his party have disembarked and are about to arrive. Otello and Iago agree to kill both Desdemona and Cassio that very night. Lodovico brings an order from the Doge recalling Otello to Venice. His successor as governor of Cyprus is to be Cassio. Enraged and humiliated, Otello assaults Desdemona in front of the entire assembly, while Iago continues his relentless plotting. The meeting breaks up in disorder and Otello falls down in a fit of apoplexy. Outside, the people continue to acclaim their hero; inside, it is Iago who is triumphant.

Scene change

Act Four
It is night. Desdemona awaits Otello as Emilia prepares her for bed. She recalls a song sung by her mother’s maid about a young girl who loved too well.

Otello enters, finding Desdemona asleep. He kisses her and she wakes up. He tells her he is going to kill her and why. Her protestations of innocence fall on deaf ears. Emilia returns with the news that Cassio has killed Roderigo. She finds the expiring Desdemona and raises the alarm. She, Cassio and Montano expose the villainy of Iago, who flees with guards in pursuit. Otello stabs himself and dies, kissing Desdemona for the last time.

Synopsis by John Cox

Sung in Italian with English subtitles.

The running time is approximately three hours and 15 minutes, including two intermissions.

An LA Opera co-production with Opéra de Monte-Carlo and Teatro Regio di Parma.

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2022/23 Season