As ACT ONE begins, the Doge of Venice honors Otello, a Moorish general returning from a victorious battle. Otello accepts the accolades, but all he really wants is to be with the woman he loves, Desdemona. The two have pledged themselves to one another, but they did it secretly, knowing her father would disapprove.
Alvaro Yanès/courtesy of the Theatre Champs-Elysées
Anna Caterina Antonacci, who sings Desdemona.
Other are characters are also standing in Otello's way. His lieutenant, Iago, and the Doge's son, Rodrigo, are both jealous of Otello's popularity and power. And Rodrigo is also in love with Desdemona.
Even Desdemona herself is uncertain about the future. She had written a letter to Otello, renewing her pledge to him. But it was intercepted by her father, Elmiro, who wants her to marry Rodrigo. Now, Desdemona thinks Otello may be having second thoughts — though Emilia, her lady-in-waiting, says that if Otello truly loves her, nothing else matters.
Iago has other ideas. He now has possession of Desdemona's letter to Otello, and decides he can use it to turn Otello against her. And there are more plots underway. Elmiro also has a grudge against Otello. He tells Rodrigo that he's free to marry Desdemona — and in return, asks Rodrigo to tell the Doge that Otello is a traitor.
Elmiro then goes to Desdemona, and says he has chosen a husband for her, but won't say who it is. People gather to celebrate the betrothal. But when Desdemona discovers that she's been given to Rodrigo, she resists, and Elmiro threatens to punish her if she doesn't agree to his wishes.
The situation worsens when Otello arrives and sees Desdemona with Rodrigo. He announces to everyone that he and Desdemona have already pledged their love, and Desdemona stands by him. This enrages Elmiro. He drags Desdemona away, while Rodrigo and Otello exchange threats as the first act ends.
John Osborn ......................... Otello
Anna Caterina Antonacci ... Desdemona
Dmitry Korchak ................ Roderigo
José Manuel Zapata .............. Iago
Marco Vinco ....................... Elmiro
José Maria Lo Monaco .......... Emila
Lyon Opera Orchestra and Chorus
Evelino Pidò, conductor
In ACT TWO, Desdemona is still resisting Rodrigo's love, but she's worried that Otello might be having second thoughts. And Otello does have some concerns. Alone, he wonders if it was wise to risk his fame and popularity by angering Rodrigo and Elmiro.
Iago then joins Otello, who makes the mistake of trusting him. Iago has already hinted that Desdemona may have been unfaithful. Otello wants proof, and Iago produces Desdemona's passionate letter. Because they declared their love secretly, the letter never mentions Otello's name. So Otello, not knowing it was intended for him, believes that he's been betrayed, and vows to get even.
When Rodrigo appears, he and Otello argue. When Desdemona enters, both men accuse her of infidelity, and Otello says he can prove it. Desdemona collapses in anguish as the two men go off to fight it out.
Later, Desdemona is joined by some friends, who tell her that Otello has survived the duel with Rodrigo. But she's then confronted by her father. Elmiro says that she has betrayed his honor. Desdemona asks for his pity, but instead he denounces her.
As ACT THREE opens, Desdemona is at home, in her bedroom. Otello has been banished and Emilia, Desdemona's lady-in-waiting, tries to comfort her. After hearing a gondolier singing a lonely song in the distance, Desdemona responds with a ballad of her own, the beautiful "Willow Song."
Emilia leaves her alone. Desdemona prays that Otello will return to her, and falls asleep. Otello does return, entering through a secret door. But he is still convinced that Desdemona has betrayed him. As he approaches her bed, he draws a dagger to kill her.
At first he hesitates — struck by her beauty. But then, as she dreams about Otello, Desdemona whispers some words of passion in her sleep. Otello assumes she's dreaming of Rodrigo. As he's about to stab her, Desdemona wakes up. Seeing Otello with the knife, she tells him she's innocent, and still loves him. Otello refuses to believe it and mocks her, saying that Iago is about to kill her lover, Rodrigo.
Hearing Iago's name, Desdemona realizes that he has been the cause of all her trouble, and cries out in anguish. Otello thinks she's reacting to his news about Rodrigo, and stabs Desdemona to death.
Otello then hears knocking at the front door and leaves the room to investigate. It's Lucio, one of his aides. Otello asks if Iago has succeeded in killing Rodrigo. Lucio says no, Rodrigo survived. Instead, Iago was mortally wounded, and confessed everything before he died, revealing Desdemona's innocence.
Before Otello can react, the Doge arrives with Elmiro. The Doge pardons Otello, and Elmiro — not knowing what has just happened — grants Otello Desdemona's hand in marriage. Realizing his mistake, Otello says yes, he'll be happy to join Desdemona. Then he draws the dagger again, and kills himself as the opera ends.