Giuseppe Verdi, opera in four acts.

Libretto: Arrigo Boito based on William Shakespeare’s Otello

Premierre in Teatro alla Scala Milan, 1887.

Broadcast Schedule

Broadcast: Thessaloniki, May 16, 2013, School of Music Studies, A.U.TH

Broadcast starts : 15:00
Duration: 3 hours and 15 minutes

*Academic course starts 13:00/presentations of the assignments: 14:00


Otello (1887) is a splendid opera by Giuseppe Verdi which came in a maturity-period when he had been active for more than seventy years. It is also a piece that marks a moment of wholeness to his long career on one hand but the starting point on a new horizon, which culminates in Falstaff (1893) on the other.

Shakespeare’s tragedy refers to the brave dark skinned general serving in Venice, who passionately loves the sweet Desdemona, but feels insecure and almost not worthy of her fines and beauty and thus becomes an easy victim of his enemies’ evil envy. This tragedy is along the lines of romantic sensibility, inside a murky and disturbing psychological drama with the action being the result of devastating passions. The outcome is the murder of Desdemona by the hands of Othello who blinded by jealously commits a suicide when he realizes the terrible mistake.

Verdi constantly tried for Shakespeare’s works to go on stage, with his first attempt being Macbeth (1847), and had not abandoned the thought for a long time. Luckily he found in the librettist Arrigo Boito an excellent ally.

Text and music enhance the strength and energy of the protagonists’ main characteristics, the turbulent character and strength of the warrior Otello, the gentleness and sensuality of Desdemona. Also the evil character of Jago whom the original tragedy makes a symbol of “evil genius”, indifferent to the moral values, with an outrageous nihilism (“La Morte è il Nulla. Fola and Ciel Vecchia”).

From a musical point, Verdi for the first time in his work as far as structure is concerned includes arias, duets and concertos separated by recitatives and thus builds a continuum in which the recitative is of great importance; often of quite dramatic and lyrical power, without adding anything more. However the music is accompanied by a richer orchestration compared to his earlier works.

Text editing/Translation: Working group



Source: Opera oberta


The discography of the opera

Source: Web page about the discography


(1813 – 1901)

Guiseppe Fortunino Francesco Verdi was born in Roncole, near Busseto, the duchy of Parma, on October 10th, 1813. His father Carlo, who kept an inn, was unable to offer him remarkable education. However, the flair of young Giuseppe to music caught the attention of Antonio Barezzi, a wealthy merchant and amateur musician who encouraged him to pursue music studies and helped him in his first steps. The young Verdi initially studied at Roncole and Bousseto, and after 1825 he attended music lessons regularly near Ferdinando Provezi. Following the strenuous capability of Barezzi, who ensured his acquaintances and financial support, he decided to continue his studies in Milan, where, at the same time, the application for registration, which is dated in June 22th 1832, was not accepted due to exceeding the age limit. Despite his disappointment, at the age of eighteen, after the exam rejection from the Conservatory of Milan, which was beyond reasoned dodgeries, poor organization and shortages of the conservatory, Verdi continued his study by having private lessons with Vincenzo Lavigna, while simultaneously monitored unfailingly, the musical events of the city. Returning to Bousseto, in 1836, he became the director of the Philharmonic Society Orchestra (Societá Filarmonica) while contemporaneously was teaching music. In May of the same year he married Margherita Barezzi with whom he had two children, Virginia and Icilio Romano, who died one year after their birth. In search of vocational rehabilitation, Verdi moved back again with his family in Milan in February 1839, trying to establish himself as an opera composer. On November 17th was presented in first performance the opera Oberto, Conte di San Bonifacio at La Scala in Milan, and the reception was enthusiastic enough to provide him other commissions . However, the death of his wife in June 1840, and previously loss of his two children literally crushed the composer, who was no longer thinking of abandoning his music, as he his family was foraged within two years. After a brief stay in Bousseto, Verdi returned to Milan trying to take over its obligations. In this tragic period of his life he had to complete the composition of comic opera A One-day Reign , which was presented on September 5th 1840 in La Skala, marking resounding failure, and adding even another disappointment in it’s creator. Exhausted by the tragic blows of fate and the failure of his opera, Verdi requested from the director of La Scala, Bartolomeo Merelli, the cancellation of his contract, a request which was refused, probably because of organizational difficulties that would be encountered Merelli by Verdi’s absence from the theater. However, the insightful director probably distinguished in the talented musician those instinctive items which established him later as a national composer of Italy, recognition that Verdi himself accepts in some parts of his autobiography and letters, despite the critical attitude of later biographers who wanted to explain this favor differently, linking Merelli with personal desires of Giusepinna Strepponi (intended mate of the composer).

THE EARLY PERIOD ( 1840 – 1850 )

In January 1841, Merelli suggested to Verdi the libretto of Solera for Nabucco he read it reluctantly, until he arrived at the scene of the choral prayer of the Jews “Va, pensiero, sull’ali dorate”. Influenced by the messages in the content but also the dramaturgical structure of the libretto, his compunctions fell and thus the composition of the opera which was completed in about a year and made him widely known in Italy and Europe, began. By this opera, which was presented at La Scala in Milan in March 1842, Verdi established his personal musical and dramatic style. The work received warm reception of the audience and critics, while simultaneously acquiring political complexion as the captivity and deliverance of Jews identified with the struggles of Italians against Austrian ascendancy. His political attitude acclaimed him as Maestro della revoluzione and obtained important collaborations in the next years. In this early period Verdi influenced by the musical idioms of Rossini and Bellini, albeit he sought the adumbration of human characters and psychological states more rather than the purely beautificated song through established standards of belcanto. The interpretation of the famous Strepponi, in the role of Abigail, also contributed specifically in the success of the opera. Inarguably, the success of Nabucco ensured Verdi in financial comfort and social recognition, while opening new horizons of artistic creation. About a year later, in February 1843, followed by the premiere of the opera The Lombards on the First Crusade at La Scala in Milan, opera was an opportunity for repressed Italians to express once again the patriotic emotions˙ however it created problems to the composer with the conquerors and the police, as several parts of the libretto was considered dangerous to the maintenance of security and order not only in Milan but also in other Italian cities, where Verdi roused the crowd with his melodies and their political content. In 1843 Verdi begins the collaboration with librettist Francesco Maria Piave for the opera Ernani, cooperation that was to continue for several years (Piave was one of the close cooperator of Verdi). The opera was presented in Venice in March 1844, while the same year collaboration of Verdi – Piave resulted in the creation of the opera The two Foscari which was presented in Rome in November. In the meantime Verdi, known theretofore in most operas in Italy, worked intensively, not only as composer but also as conductor, whereas the next year his fame began to spread in the rest of Europe. In 1846 he visited Paris for the mounting of Ernani, while the next year in London presented his opera The Bandits. He returned to Paris, where he wanted to renew his friendship with Giusepinna Strepponi, which had withdrawn from the scene and had located in the French capital ensuring the livelihood delivering voice lessons. Her artistic and social acquaintances ensured a comfortable life for her in Paris, while helped Verdi proficiently during his residence there. Their relationship was revived, but without the mood to commit to marriage, perhaps because of some family problems faced by Giuseppina. After scandals and family adventures Verdi came to his hometown Bousetto˙ he bought an area there in Sant’ Agata, where he built a mansion which was also the permanent residence of the rest of his life. He was returning there after his artistic journeys, successes or failures, and he wrote there several compositions of the middle period. Within the revolutionary climate of the era that prevailed throughout Europe, in March 1848 Verdi interrupted his residence in Paris to participate in the rebellion of Milan, the well-known Five Days of Milan (“Cinque giornate” 18 – 22 of March). The struggles of Italian independence continued for some time, while in January 1849 the revolution was celebrated in Rome with the premiere of the opera The Battle of Legnano. However, after the battle of Novara, in March 1849, and the invasion of French in Rome in July, King Charles Albert was forced to abdicate in favor of his successor Vittorio Emanuele, while French regave the authority to Pope Pius IX, who reestablished the earlier political status, disappointing the Italian patriots. Artistic creation of Verdi continued in Italy and Europe with considerable success. In early works he had already begun to emerge several elements that would determine later the musical and dramatic style of the great successes of the composer, as the integration of established compositional forms (recitatives, arias, ensembles and chorals) in a large single musical and dramatic unity.

THE MIDDLE PERIOD ( 1851 – 1870 )

The beginning of the middle period is signaled by three very wellknown and important operas : Rigoletto (1851), Il Trovatore (1853) and La Traviata (1853), works in which Verdi adopted original elements that contributed to the concatenation of drama. Moreover, in several operas he selected topics of European literature, introducing the kind of “literary opera”, a genre that did not rely solely on surficial usage of a novel as libretto, but it aimed at a neoteric connection of music and literary text. These works were considered pioneering because of their content, which affect social and political issues, values debatable and contradictory human emotions. Often, however, these issues were, at least during the first period of their presentation, guarded reception. The affair of the work The king is amused (which is based on the drama of Victor Hugo), was for that time a dareful theme, as it mentioned values and morals of the class of nobles. Only with several diversifications the text became accepted. The same thing happened also with La Traviata, whose theme is based on the novel by Alexandre Dumas The Lady of the Camellias. The operatic version surpassed the moral issue, as the case was transferred to the 17th century. However the phthisical heroine and her debatable ethics created comments and negative reviews, resulting in the non successful premiere of the work in Venice. In literary operas of Verdi it becomes obvious that it concerns prose set to music, which occur dialogues and monologues, but also all the musical and aesthetic elements that compose the ensemble : that is the dramatic interconnection of the characters. The aesthetic axiom of literary opera of 19th century was not the reflection of consciousness in relation to previous scenic processes – the remembrance of past and anticipation of future as it happens respectively in the music dramas of Richard Wagner – but capturing the dramatic moment and the inherent emotion. In opera by and large, but especially in literary opera, ritual element (Rituell) belongs to the entity of it’s theatrical side : celebrations, processions, parades, scenes of oath, scenes in the church, prayer or even death on stage obey to the ritual element, in the dramaturgy of opera. For aesthetics and theory of literary opera the general tendency towards rite and parola scenica means that theatrical drama is suitable for setting to music only when it contains such moments, which are offered for “ceremonial” scenes.During the middle period Verdi, as an artist of international reputation, wrote works for the Paris Opera House and other French theaters, often adapting musical and dramatic structure in the requirements and tradition of French opera pattern. Thereby, he was often forced to incorporate into operas elements of the French Grand Opéra. The most representative work of this genre is The sicilian vespers (1855), an opera based on a libretto by Eugène Scribe. In the works of the middle period the Verdian musical and dramatic elements which characterize most of his operas are established as well, such as the inclusion of a large ensemble in the dramatic scenes of the opera, the projection of dramatic characters (soloists) in a frame of a large unified crowd scene (choir) and the persuit of the dramatic concatenation which resulted in adapting often non dramatic morphological structure of aria in previous and subsequent musical parts. From a musical and dramaturgical point of view, however, the most important feature in Verdi is the musical ascription of the “dramatic moment”, of “state”. During this interval he collaborated with the librettists Themistocle Solera, Salvadore Cammarano, Francesco Maria Piave and Arrigo Boito, and quite often contributed with his suggestions in shaping of librettos, and in some cases dictated the poetic meter. It is worth mentioning that Verdi after the rebellion of Milan, but also throughout the decade of 1850, he continued to fight alongside his compatriots, choosing librettos which often brought him in contrast with the Committee of Censorship, but mostly writing music that literally roused the crowds. On February 17th 1859 was presented in first performance The Masked Ball at the Apollo Theater in Rome, marking an unprecedented success. The opera was hailed by critics with extensive references and praises both for its music and general musical and dramatic structure. Due to political developments, the name of Verdi connected once again with the enthusiastic patriotic events, as the audience was acclaiming the composer with the famous phrase “VIVA VERDI”, expressed simultaneously its support for the king of Italy Vittorio Emanuele (V.E.R.D.I. = Vittorio Emanuele, Re D’Italia). In April of 1859, in a climate of patriotic elations, the war between Austria and Italy was declared. The following months were extremely difficult for the Italians who gave the final battle for their release, having at their side the army of Napoleon III. At this difficult year Verdi decided to legitimize his longtime relationship with Giuseppina˙ the marriage took place in Savoy on August 29th. Immediately then, the couple returned to Sant ‘Agata and came back to the daily rhythm of cohabitation, having permanently relieved of the reviews and comments arising from their relationship. In 1860, after the invitation of count Cavour, Verdi became involved in politics, contributing to restoration of democracy in Italy after its liberation from Austrian dominance. He did not remain in politics for a long time˙ he abdicated from the position of deputy of the Parliament in Turin in 1861, after the death of Cavour.

LATE PERIOD (1871-1901)

For many scholars the premier of Verdi’s Aida at the Italian opera house of Cairo on the 24th of December 1871 is the starting point of the composer’s late period. This period was less creative but involved a lot of traveling around Europe during which Verdi had the chance to expand his works and receive many prizes for them. Late findings have shown that Verdi with Aida managed to connect the french Grand Opera and the Italian melodrama and to incorporate in its structure some free forms while maintaining the dramatic effect. In 1873 Verdi composed its only chamber music piece, the String Quartet in E minor. Also, for the death of Alessandro Manzoni with whom he had been good friends since 1868, Verdi wrote Requiem for 4 solo voices, orchestra and choir which premiered in Duomo, Milan in 1874. In this piece he used the last part of his unfinished requiem which had dedicated to Rossini in 1867. In 1879 after Arrigo’s Boito urge Verdi started composing the music for Othello, one of the most important operas in terms of its dramatic characters. It premiered at La Skala, Milan on the 5th of February 1887. In that opera in fact we observe the transition from the Gesangsoper to Operndrama in which the orchestra plays an important role because it carries the dramatic expression but also ties the dramatic element in the whole piece. Verdi was very much influenced by the french Grand Opera in which the orchestra had the main role in painting situations with a special timbre. After Othello’s successful tour in Europe, Verdi retired in Sant’ Agata because he thought Othello was his last piece and it was finally time to settle down. However he composed one more opera based on Shakespeare. Boito urged the 80 year old composer to create Falstaff 1893 a comedia lirica which doesn’t incorporate the opera buff elements. The new comic genre has parts in parlando style and extensive melodic lines which appear on the crucial points of the story. The orchestra is quite independent and has the leading role most of the time even when accompanying the singing parts. In the last years of his life Verdi occupied himself with sacred pieces like Pater Noster for 5part choir in Danti’s poetry1889 and Ave Maria for soprano and a string quartet 1880. Unexpectedly in 1897 his companion Giuseppina died and that led the composer to a depression. He wrote his last piece in 1898, the ”Quattro pezzi sacri” for choir and orchestra. As Verdi felt the end was near he cared for the Casa di riposo, a place for elderly musicians in Milan. He had one last wish,to be buried with his beloved Giuseppina in Casa di riposo and when he finally suffered a heart attack on the 27th of January 1901 his wish came true. The ceremony was huge on the 26th of February and 900 singers were singing the ”Va, pensiero, sull’ali dorate” under the direction of Arturo Toscanini.

Evi Nika Samson,Guiseppe Fortunino Francesco Verdi , Giuseppe Verdi – Aida, OMMA (Athens Concert Hall) (2000-2001), p 6-8

Translation/Text Editing: The working Group

Verdi’s operas

Oberto, conte di San Bonifazio

(Oberto, earl of San Bonifazio) the libretto was written by Antonio Piazza. Premiered in 17.11.1839, Milan.

Un giorno di regno

(A one-day reign) the libretto was written by Felice Romani. Premiered in 5.9.1840, Milan.


(Nebuchadnezzar) the libretto was written by Temistocle Solera. Premiered in 9.3.1842, Milan.

I Lombardi alla prima crociata

(The Lombards on the first crusade) the libretto was written by Temistocle Solera. Premiered in 11.2.1843, Milan.


(Ernani) the libretto was written by Francesco Maria Piave. Premiered in 9.3.1844, Venice.

I due Foscari

(The two Foscaris) the libretto was written by Francesco Maria Piave. Premiered in 3.11.1844, Rome.

Giovanna d’Arco

(Joan of Arc) the libretto was written by Temistocle Solera. Premiered in 15.2.1845, Milan.


(Alzira) the libretto was written by Salvatore Cammarano. Premiered in 12.8.1845, Naples.


(Attila) the libretto was written by Temistocle Solera. Premiered in 17.3.1846, Venice.


(Macbeth) the libretto was written by Francesco Maria Piave. Premiered by 14.3.1847, Florence.

I masnadieri

(The Bandits) the libretto was written by Andrea Maffei. Premiered in 22.7.1847, London.


(Jerusalem) the libretto was written by Alphonse Royer and Gustave Vaëz. Premiered in 26.11.1847, Paris.

Il corsaro

(The corsair) the libretto was written by Francesco Maria Piave. Premiered in 25.10.1848, Trieste.

La battaglia di Legnano

(The battle of Legnano) the libretto was written by Salvatore Cammarano. Premiered in 27.1.1849, Rome.

Luisa Miller

(Luisa Miller) the libretto was written by Salvatore Cammarano. Premiered in 8.12.1849, Naples.


(Stiffelio) the libretto was written by Francesco Maria Piave. Premiered in 16.11.1850, Trieste.


(Rigoletto) the libretto was written by Francesco Maria Piave. Premiered 13.3.1851, Rome.

Il trovatore

(Trovatore) the libretto was written by Salvatore Cammarano and Emanuele Bardare. Premiered in 19.1.1853, Rome.

La Traviata

(The woman who Strayed) the libretto was written by Francesco Maria Piave. Premiered by 6.3.1853, Venice.

Les vêpres siciliennes

(The Sicilian Vespers) the libretto was written by Eugène Scribe and Charles Duveyrier. Premiered in 13.6.1855, Paris.

Simone Boccanerga

(Simone Boccanerga) the libretto was written by Francesco Maria Piave. Premiered in 12.3.1857, Venice.


(Aroldo) an elaboration of Stiffelio, the libretto was written by Francesco Maria Piave. Premiered in 16.8.1857, Rimini

Un ballo in maschera

(A masked dance) the libretto was written by Antonio Somma. Premiered in 17.2.1859, Rome.

La forza del destino

(The force of Destiny) the libretto was written by Francesco Maria Piave. Premiered in 10.11.1862, St. Petersburg.


(Macbeth) the second edition. Premiered 21.4.1865, Paris.

Don Carlos

(Don Carlos) the libretto was written by Josephe Mery Camille Du Locle. Premiered in 11.3.1867, Paris.

La forza del destino

(The force of Destiny) the second edition. Premiered in 10.11.1869, Milan.


(Aida) the libretto was written by Antonio Ghislanzoni. Premiered in 24.12.1871, Cairo.

Simone Boccanerga

(Simone Boccanerga) the second edition. Premiered in 24.3.1881, Milan.

Don Carlos

(Don Carlos) the second edition. Premiered in 10.1.1884, Milan.


(Otello) the libretto was written by Arrigo Boito. Premiered in 5.2.1887, Milan.


(Falstaff) the libretto was written by Arrigo Boito. Premiered in 9.2.1893, Milan.


Evi Nika Samson, The opera’s of Giuseppe Verdi, Giuseppe Verdi – Aida, OMMA (Athens Concert Hall) (2000-2001), p 11

Translation/Text Editing: The working Group

Τhe cast

Music Director
Antoni Ros-Marbà

Stage Director
Willy Decker

John Macfarlane

David Finn

Athol Farmer

Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie (Brusel·les) / Grand Théâtre de Genève


OTELLO José Cura
JAGO Lado Ataneli
CASSIO Vittorio Grigolo
RODERIGO Vicenç Esteve Madrid
LODOVICO Giorgio Giuseppini
MONTANO Roberto Accurso  
Ferran Ilari
DESDEMONA Krassimira Stoyanova 
EMILIA Ketevan Kemoklidze 
ACTORS M. Carme Alcázar, Miquel Barcelona,
Roberto Miguel,Lourdes Muñiz, Sergi
Ots, Jordi Pujades, Simeón Torres

Symphony Orchestra and Chorus of the Gran Teatre del Liceu

Source: Opera oberta

Making of

Source: Opera oberta


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