Otello - Synopsis

Otello: Anja Harteros, Raymond Very Giuseppe Verdi: Otello Otello: Claudio Sgura, Pavol Breslik


Giuseppe Verdi
Arrigo Boito


Act One

Otello, the governor of Cyprus, which is under Venetian rule, has beaten the Turks in a battle at sea. There is a terrible storm and Otello's fleet manages to reach the harbour safely on the coast of Cyprus. The local inhabitants celebrate the victory; only Jago and Roderigo do not join in the jubilation. Jago, Otello's ensign, is angry because the latter has promoted Cassio, making him a captain, instead of Jago himself; and Roderigo, a Venetian nobleman, is hopelessly in love with Otello's wife Desdemona.

Jago ist bent on taking revenge on Otello. He deliberately makes Cassio drunk at the victory celebration and goads Roderigo into taunting the captain into a brawl. His plan is successful. Montano, Otello's predecessor as governor of the island, tries to separate the struggling men, and Cassio wounds him in the fight that follows. Otello, disturbed by the tumult during his reunion with Desdemona, arrives on the scene and dismisses Cassio. The people disperse and quiet returns to the street. Otello and Desdemona are alone and declare their love for each other.


Act Two

Jago continues his plotting. He advises Cassio to induce Desdemona to plead with Otello for his reinstatement. Jago himself, however, craftily uses a conversation with Otello to fan his jealousy of Cassio. Immediately after that Desdemona asks her husband to pardon Cassio. Otello refuses to give the matter any consideration. Desdemona makes as if to wipe his brow with the handkerchief he gave her as the first token of his love. Otello angrily throws it to the ground. Jago's wife, Emilia, picks it up and Jago takes it from her.

Otello demands that Jago should provide him with proof that Desdemona has been unfaithful. Jago describes a dream Cassio is supposed to have had, in which he talked in his sleep of his love for Desdemona, and he tells Otello that he has seen Desdemona’s handkerchief in Cassio's hands. Otello is now convinced of Desdemona's guilt. Jago joins him in swearing revenge.


Act Three

A herald announces the arrival of the Venetian ambassadors. Desdemona again begs her husband to pardon Cassio. Otello refuses to listen to her and instead asks her where her handkerchief is. She cannot find it. Otello now gives full vent to his fury and accuses Desdemona of adultery. Jago engages Cassio in a conversation which is overheard by Otello. Jago contrives to have Cassio make frivolous remarks about his mistress, Bianca, which Otello then thinks refer to Desdemona. When Otello sees the handkerchief, which Jago has secretly conveyed to Cassio's chambers, in the hands of his supposed rival, he sees this as proof of Desdemona's guilt. The Venetian ambassadors approach. Otello and Jago decide to kill Desdemona. Otello rewards Jago by promoting him to the rank of captain.

Otello receives the delegation led by Lodovico. They bring him the news that the Doge has recalled him to Venice and appointed Cassio to be his successor on Cyprus. Otello is overcome by rage and strikes down Desdemona, to the horror of all present. Jago advises Roderigo to murder Cassio in order to prevent the departure of Otello and Desdemona from Cyprus. Overcome by his emotions, Otello orders everyone to leave and curses Desdemona before falling to the ground in a swoon.


Act Four

Desdemona is getting ready to go to bed. With a great sense of foreboding she says goodbye to Emilia. After saying her Ave Maria she falls asleep. Otello comes in. He stares at her for a long time and then kisses her, and she awakes. Desdemona swears that she is innocent of the crime he thinks she has committed, but she fails to convince Otello that she has always been faithful. Otello strangles her.

When Emilia rushes in with the news that Cassio has killed Roderigo, she discovers Desdemona dead. She screams for help and Lodovico, Cassio, Jago and Montano rush in. Montano tells how he has heard the dying Roderigo reveal Jago's villainy. Jago flees. Otello kills himself.

Translation: Susan Bollinger

© Bavarian State Opera