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OTELLO

Giuseppe Verdi

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SNF Lead Donor of GNO & Production Donor

Description

The Greek National Opera presents Verdi’s Otello, directed, designed and with lighting by Robert Wilson, one of the greatest theatre and visual artists of our times, in his first collaboration with Greece’s only opera house, from 23 February, for eight performances inside the Stavros Niarchos Hall at the SNFCC. This work stands as one of the Greek National Opera’s most major co-productions with an historic European opera forum, the Baden-Baden Easter Festival. Conducted by Stathis Soulis, the production stars such leading Greek and international soloists as Aleksandrs Antoņenko, Cellia Costea, and Tassis Christoyannis.

Giuseppe Verdi’s four-act opera Otello closely follows the narrative of Shakespeare’s masterpiece of the same title, rendering the story through music of explosive power and exemplary expressive economy. The heroism and fierce might of Otello, the seething hatred of Iago, the innocence and guileless trust of Desdemona – all are strikingly captured by Verdi’s score. With singular precision, the music magnificently depicts the terrifying force of a storm raging at sea, but moreover the very soul of our lead character, a man set to be swept from the seat of his glory, overcome by his jealous instincts. First presented at Milan’s La Scala in 1887, Verdi’s penultimate opera entered into the repertoires of all the world’s opera houses and has remained one of the most popular productions with audiences ever since.

The plot tackles the revenge taken by Iago, an ensign in the service of Otello. Iago hates Otello, the Moorish Governor of Cyprus and a general of the Venetian Republic, because he passed him over for advancement, promoting Cassio instead. Iago schemes in order to convince Otello that his wife, Desdemona, is being unfaithful to him with Cassio. Otello falls into his trap and, overcome by jealousy, strangles Desdemona. When Iago’s machinations are exposed, Otello takes his own life.

Robert Wilson, a multi-award-winning avant-garde director who forever changed the way that opera is staged through his instantly recognisable signature style, here foregrounds the music, offering up an Otello that unfolds within a minimalistic scenic world, with aesthetically striking and emotionally charged images, impressive lighting, stylised movement, singular costumes, and intense make-up. The production was warmly received by audiences when first presented in April 2019 at the Baden-Baden Easter Festival in Germany. 

Recorded in the GNO Stavros Niarchos Hall at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center on 2 and 5 March 2022. Subtitles are available in Greek, English and French.

At a glance – Synopsis

The composer
Giuseppe Verdi, the most renowned composer of Italian Romanticism, was born in Le Roncole in northern Italy, 1813 and died in Milan, 1901. He studied music in the small town of Busseto and then in Milan. His earliest works were influenced by the revolutionary spirit of the times, echoing the struggle of the many small Italian states to be liberated from the Austrians and unified into one sovereign state. Verdi’s involvement with politics elevated the composer to the status of a national symbol –as an acrostic, “Viva Verdi” meant “Viva Vittorio Emanuele Re D’Italia”– and in 1861 he was elected a member of the first Italian Parliament. Verdi’s most important operas are Nabucco (1842), Macbeth (1847/1865), Rigoletto (1851), Il trovatore (1853), La traviata (1853), Aida (1871), Otello (1887), and Falstaff (1893).

On an aesthetic level, Verdi’s music expressed the spirit of mature Romanticism, and on a political one his compatriots’ desire to see Italy free and united. He was adored by an especially broad public and enjoyed popularity that remains unfaltering to this day. In the midst of the historical, political and social changes taking place in the 19th century, Verdi was the composer who experienced that special moment in the history of music where high art was also popular art.


The work
Dramma lirico in four acts, Verdi’s Otello is based on a libretto by poet, novelist and composer Arrigo Boito after William Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice (1603).


Premieres
Verdi’s Otello was first produced to great acclaim at Milan’s La Scala on 5 February 1887. The Greek National Opera, founded in 1939, first presented Otello on 8 December 1960 at the new Olympia Theatre, inaugurated in January 1958.


Act I / Cyprus, late 15th century. The people watch anxiously as a fierce storm batters the Venetian fleet sent to defend their island from the invading Turks. The Moor Otello, a Venetian general and Governor of Cyprus, lands his flagship safely in the port and announces the destruction of the Turkish fleet. Iago, Otello’s ensign, offers to help the wealthy Roderigo, who is in love with Desdemona, Otello’s wife. Iago hates Otello because he passed him over for advancement, promoting Cassio instead.

While the citizens celebrate their governor’s victory and his safe return home, Iago tries to get Cassio drunk and provokes Roderigo to get into a fight with Cassio. Montano, the former governor of the island, tries to separate the pair, but Cassio attacks him too. Otello appears to restore order. Furious about his soldiers’ behaviour, he withdraws Cassio’s recent promotion and commands everyone to leave. Otello then returns to Desdemona’s side.


Act II / Iago advises Cassio to present his case to Desdemona as she would be able to influence Otello and get Cassio reinstated. Iago watches Cassio approach Desdemona in the garden and when Otello enters, he makes casual remarks about Desdemona’s fidelity. Desdemona enters. Otello greets her lovingly, but when she brings up the question of Cassio’s demotion, he is angered. She offers him a handkerchief to cool his forehead, but he throws it to the ground. Her attendant Emilia, who is Iago’s wife, picks it up. As Desdemona tries to calm Otello, Iago seizes the handkerchief from Emilia. Otello asks everybody to leave. Only Iago remains in order to increase Otello’s suspicions. He invents a story of how Cassio spoke of Desdemona in his sleep; he mentions that he saw her handkerchief in Cassio’s hand. Exploding with rage and jealousy, Otello swears vengeance.


Act III / A herald announces the imminent arrival of Venetian ambassadors. Iago assures Otello that he will soon have further proof of his wife’s betrayal. Desdemona enters and, after a while, she revives the subject of Cassio. When Otello demands the handkerchief he gave her, she responds that she doesn’t have it with her. Otello accuses her of infidelity and dismisses her. He hides as Iago returns with Cassio. Iago flashes the handkerchief he stole and leads the conversation with Cassio in such a way that Otello overhears only fragments and incorrectly assumes they are talking about Desdemona. Enraged, Otello vows to kill his wife that very night.

He then greets the Venetian ambassador Lodovico, who recalls him to Venice and appoints Cassio to govern Cyprus. Losing control at this news, Otello pushes his wife to the floor, hurling insults. He orders everyone out and collapses in a seizure.


Act IV / Emilia helps Desdemona prepare for bed. Frightened, Desdemona sings of a maiden forsaken by her lover and finally recites her prayers. As soon as she has fallen asleep, Otello enters and wakes her with a kiss. When Otello starts to talk about killing her, she is horrified and protests her innocence, but Otello strangles her. Emilia enters with news that Cassio has killed Roderigo. Seeing the dying Desdemona, she summons help. Iago’s plot is finally revealed. Realising what he has done, Otello stabs himself.

Creative team – Cast

Conductor Stathis Soulis
Director, design, lighting Robert Wilson
Co-Director Nicola Panzer
Associate set designer Serge von Arx
Costumes Jacques Reynaud, Davide Boni
Associate lighting designer Marcello Lumaca
Hair & Make-up artist Manuela Halligan
Video Tomasz Jeziorski
Dramaturgy Konrad Kuhn
Chorus master Agathangelos Georgakatos
Children’s chorus mistress Konstantina Pitsiakou 


With the GNO Orchestra , Chorus and Children’s Chorus (as part of its educational mission)


Otello Aleksandrs Antoņenko
Desdemona Cellia Costea 
Iago Tassis Christoyannis
Cassio Dimitris Paksoglou 
Roderigo Yannis Kalyvas 
Lodovico Petros Magoulas
Montano Marinos Tarnanas
A Herald Pavlos Sampsakis
Emilia Violetta Lousta 

Director's note

The director had this to say about the production: “Otello takes a lot of concentration. This story is more of an internal conflict, a question of insecurity. With someone who is very strong and also very weak. A traditional, tragic, complicated situation. You have a foreigner. […] Otello is dealing with the question: What is it like to be a foreigner? It sure is contemporary, but it is a classical conflict. And one finds these classical conflicts throughout all literature, throughout all history. One can say it is contemporary, but I would rather say it´s full of time. It is not timeless, but full of time. We can go back to the 16th century or to the 19th century or we can be in the 21st century, we still have the same old conflicts.”

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