Première on 1st July 1999 at the Nationaltheater
Francesca Zambello - Rotting Relationships, Moral Decay
Verdi's Otello is a masterwork of compactness. It brings Shakespeare's tragedy right to the core and concentrates on the fateful drama among four people, whose mutual suspicion will ultimately bring misfortune over them all. Fate has brought these four people, each of them in his or her own way an outsider, together on an island. They are representatives of a colonial power: Otello is the foreign state agent; Desdemona the daughter of a Venetian nobleman, who has deliberately set her cap against prevailing social conditions to marry the man she loves; Jago is the dissatisfied follower, Cassio the happy-go-lucky young nobleman, clueless on an overseas mission.
The violent storm that opens the opera may perhaps have put an end to the Turkish threat, but instead of that it has put the protagonists in a trap. They are forced to remain idle on the island in the scorching summer heat. There is no escape. The forced idleness proves fatal for these four people, who are used to taking their lives into their own hands - whether by commanding the Venetian armed forces or defying a father. The garrison, a colonial outpost, is cut off from the outside world; thus likewise from convention, and - increasingly - from any sense of reality. The alienation of these outsiders from one another is tightly interwoven with the increasing isolation of each individual. Doubt and suspicion grow, relationships begin to rot in the all-searing heat.
When the security the protagonists have built their lives on begins collapsing all around them, they find no further way to work effectively. Insecurity leads to mistrust and moral decay. By losing one another they lose themselves. The drama becomes more and more internalized. It gets abstract and expressionistic. Verdi's opening tempest rages just as turbulently in the heads of the characters as in the world around them. In the course of the opera the emotional and dramatic heat climbs. Only another storm can clear the air. When it finally does arrive, it will be too late for Otello and Desdemona.
English translation by Donald Arthur
© Bavarian State Opera