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Verdi's "Otello"

A classic opera of love and betrayal.

Giuseppe Verdi’s operatic retelling of Shakespeare’s Othello, called Otello, is one of the most romantic love stories on the operatic stage, but also one of the most dramatic.

Verdi scores specific “kiss music” for the two lovers throughout the opera. The kiss music returns right before Otello kills Desdemona. The shimmery strings and the major key in contrast with the other music could represent the memory of their time together which, because of his jealousy, has to end very soon. This music could represent Otello’s thought. He may be reminiscing about their time together. It could be an external commentary on Verdi’s part telling Otello that he doesn’t have to kill Desdemona, if only he wouldn’t let his own jealousy blind him.

Otello and Desdemona travel harmonically, not singing at the same time, and the one picks up where the other leaves off. This emphasizes that they listen and process what one says to the other and that they respect what the other has to say. Unlike other opera duets where the lovers sing in parallel thirds, the fact that these lovers listen to each other and remember what the other says is represented in this way and also that they repeat each others’ music.

One of the most moving pieces in the opera is the villain Iago’s aria, “Credo.” The significance of the first line is that Iago is implying even though Otello appears to be just and a good man, God will still allow the evil Iago to cause his downfall. With the lines “who has created me in his image,” he is implying that he has some sort of divine duty to finish his evil plot against Otello. He also says that all men are innately evil and they need to be to get what they want. Evil isn’t put into people by the devil, but by God. Iago’s vocal line is very static and characterized by a lot of repeated notes followed by leaps up to a longer held note like on the words “I am evil because I am a man.” The vocal line isn’t lyrical—it almost sounds like shouting the whole time because of the constant quick repeated notes and the high notes—until the words “I believe in a cruel God, who has created me in his image and whom, in hate, I name” and in “After all this mockery comes Death. And then ?” in which he has a few lyrical lines, characterized by the slow, block accompaniment from the orchestra, the slower tempo of his line, and more of a symmetrical line than he’d had before. His line moves back to its speech-like way immediately after these lines.

The orchestration seems to be mocking Iago throughout much of the piece with their part which is so unlike his. At the beginning of the piece, the orchestra plays in accented octaves for four measures. These measures have a dark color which seems to imply someone evil and corrupt is about to start singing. Then, however, it seems like the orchestra seems to mock his thoughts on evil and his plot to destroy Otello by playing rather bright, major key and almost dance-like responses to his claims of “in his image and whom, in hate, I name,” to which the orchestra responds with this quick motive. This motive and the quick 16th note triplets throughout seem to paint a melodramatic picture of Iago, but also paint a character to not take him seriously. I think an effective part is when Iago sings “After all this mockery comes Death. And then?” This section is more lyrical than other sections, the orchestra doesn’t seem to be mocking him, but instead supporting him with chords appropriate to what he is singing. This part seems to reveal a sympathetic part of Iago, someone who is really afraid of death, and Verdi makes him a little more human with this short passage.