Verdi's Brilliantly Inauthentic 'Ave Maria' When Verdi set out to make Othello into an opera, he didn't worry about getting Shakespeare absolutely right. Rob Kapilow unveils Verdi's inappropriate yet vividly dramatic makeover of one seemingly innocent scene.
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Hear What Makes 'Ave Maria' From Verdi's 'Otello' Great

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Verdi's Brilliantly Inauthentic 'Ave Maria'

Verdi's Brilliantly Inauthentic 'Ave Maria'

Hear What Makes 'Ave Maria' From Verdi's 'Otello' Great

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/94295459/97822180" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Verdi trumps Shakespeare by inserting a hauntingly beautiful "Ave Maria" into his operatic version of Othello. Universal Classics hide caption

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Universal Classics

Verdi trumps Shakespeare by inserting a hauntingly beautiful "Ave Maria" into his operatic version of Othello.

Universal Classics

While some great opera composers thrive on nuance and suggestion, Giuseppe Verdi had a real talent for getting to the heart of the matter. When he turned Shakespeare's Othello into the opera Otello, Verdi didn't worry about copying every detail from the original.

In Desdemona's aria "Ave Maria" (the scene just before she's murdered), commentator Robert Kapilow explains that Verdi achieved his aims by going above and beyond the boundaries of authenticity. Kapilow says that Verdi not only reinvents Shakespeare, but also reinvents Gregorian chant — and, in the process, creates something artificial yet truthful at the same time.

"This scene," Kapilow says, "is spectacularly, inappropriately inauthentic Shakespeare, yet it couldn't be more true to the heart of what it's about."

Desdemona — sung in this example by soprano Renée Fleming — is praying for all the people who suffer as much as she does. But her prayers won't stop the jealous Otello from murdering her in her bed. It's a key moment in the last act of Verdi's great opera.

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