This Saturday marks the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s passing. In honor of this great playwright, Clef Notes is highlighting several of his works that have been set to music over the years. This week, let’s look at the tragic tale of Othello.
Following the premiere of Aida in 1871, Giuseppe Verdi decided to retire. Upon finishing his setting of the Requiem mass in 1874, he hoped to use his fortune to spend his remaining years relaxing and enjoying life. His publisher, Giulio Ricordi, had different plans. After several years of persuasion, he convinced the composer to take up composition again and to join forces with librettist Arrigo Boito in an opera on his beloved Shakespeare’s Othello. The collaboration was a success and resulted in a powerful opera with demanding leads and a strong orchestral role.
Verdi’s Otello (1887) tells the tragic tale of how Othello’s jealousy drives him to murder his wife and then take his own life. The vocal lines are challenging, the villain Iago, for instance, having to change his musical style to match whomever he associates with in order to deceive and carry out his evil plot. For a full synopsis of Otello, you can read here.
Below, you can enjoy the famous “Willow Song” and “Ave Maria” sung by Renee Fleming as the innocent Desdemona.
Next time, join me as we look at another famous setting of Othello by Antonin Dvorak.