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Verdi's Otello twists the knife of tragedy for the viewer - Metro US

Verdi’s Otello twists the knife of tragedy for the viewer

How opera tragedy makes impact is perfectly illustrated in Otello, Verdi’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s play.

The title character, a 16th century Moorish general working in Venice, is made to believe his wife Desdemona is carrying on with another man. Distraught beyond reason, Otello kills her. When he discovers it’s all a racist lie fueled by professional jealousy, he kills himself, shattered and humiliated.

It’s brutally sad, and it’s easy to overlook how Desdemona, an Italian lady married to a Spanish Arab, was always in danger of social backlash.

“She is such a strong woman, like how we would describe an independent woman from 50 years ago,” explains Italian soprano Tiziana Caruso, who will sing as Desdemona with the Canadian Opera Company this week. “As the wife, she is stronger than Otello in some ways. They are a mature couple, and she knows her love is whole. Otello is nervous. He worries that his not being Italian is a disadvantage, and that she will naturally come to love men more like her.”

Verdi’s 1887 version takes The Bard’s devastating play and milks the agonizing moments, like when Ensign Iago, the worst scoundrel in the History of Villains, sings with demented glee, his plot to deceive Otello. And when the Moorish General is finally standing over his sleeping Desdemona, preparing to kill, his mind racing in so many directions it’s useless. The madness and misery racing through him is captured with romantic orchestral writing that penetrates the general’s toxic confusion.

When she awakes, seeing her husband remade as her murderer, she is more afraid for his soul than for her own life, encapsulating her seamless true love for him, twisting the blade of tragedy inside the viewer.

“Desdemona’s fault is that she thinks Otello understands all, but he can’t,” says Caruso. “She is a modern woman and sees Otello as modern as well. She does not realize how others like Iago will find ways to bring out in her husband primitive masculine fears.”

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