Opera in four acts by Giuseppe Verdi. Text by Boito.
The first scene represents the people following excitedly the course of the ship that bears Otello (Othello), which battles with the waves. After he has landed and informed the assembly of his victory over the Turks, shouts of joy and exultation rend the air.
Then follows a convivial chat between Cassio, Rodrigo, and Iago, in the course of which the latter makes Cassio drunk. Iago’s demoniacal nature is masterfully depicted here, where he soon succeeds in ruining Cassio, who loses his rank as captain.
In the third scene we see Desdemona with her husband, both rejoicing in the felicity of their mutual love.
In the second act Iago proceeds to carry out his evil intents, by sending Cassio to Desdemona, who is to intercede for him with Otello. Iago then calls Otello’s attention to the retiring Cassio, and by making vile insinuations inflames his deadly jealousy. Desdemona appears, surrounded by women and children, who offer her flowers and presents. She comes forward to plead for Cassio, and Otello suspiciously refuses. She takes out her handkerchief to cool her husband’s aching fore-head with it, but he throws it down and Emilia, Iago’s wife, picks it up. Iago wrenches it from her and hides it.
In the next scene Iago’s villainous insinuations work upon Otello, who becomes wildly suspicious. Iago relates a dream of Cassia’s, in which he reveals his love for Desdemona, then he hints that he has seen Otello’s first love-token, her lace handkerchief, in Cassio’s hands, and both swear to avenge Desdemona’s infidelity.
In the third act Otello, pretending to have a head-ache, asks for Desdemona’s lace handkerchief. She has lost it, she tells him, but he is incredulous and charges her with infidelity. All her protests are use-less, and at length he forces her to retire. Mean-while Iago has brought Cassio and urges Otello to hide himself. Cassio has a lady-love named Bianca, and of her they speak, but Iago dexterously turns the dialogue so as to make Otello believe that they are speaking of his wife. His jealousy reaches its climax when Cassio draws forth Desdemona’s handkerchief, which Iago has deposited in Cassio’s house. All his doubts now seem to be confirmed. A cannon-shot announcing the arrival of a galley interrupts the conversation and Cassio quickly leaves.
In the following scene Iago advises Otello to strangle his wife. Otello consents, and gives Iago a captaincy.
Lodovico, an ambassador of Venice, arrives, with other nobles, to greet their liberator Otello. Desdemona once more asks pardon for Cassio, but is roughly rebuked by her husband. Otello reads the order which has been brought to him, and tells Cassio that he is to be general in his stead by will of the Doge of Venice; but while Cassio is confounded by this sudden change of fortune, Iago secretly vows his death, instigating his rival Rodrigo to kill him. At last Otello faints, overcome by conflicting emotions.
In the fourth act Desdemona, filled with sad forebodings, takes a touching farewell of Emilia. When she has ended her fervent prayer (one of the most beautiful things in the opera), she falls into a peaceful slumber. Otello wakes her with a kiss, and tells her immediately thereafter that she must die. She protests her innocence, but in vain, for Otello, telling her that Cassio can speak no more, smothers her. Hardly has he completed his ghastly work than Emilia comes up, announcing that Rodrigo has been killed by Cassio. Desdemona with her dying breath once more asserts her innocence, while Emilia loudly screams for help. When the others appear, Emilia discovers her husband’s villainy. Iago flees, and Otello stabs himself at the feet of his innocent spouse.