In 1986, LA Opera’s inaugural season opened with Giuseppe Verdi’s Otello, starring Plácido Domingo. Of the opera, director Götz Friedrich said, “The theme [of Otello] is eternal and current: The Soldier, shoved into peacetime, proves to be defenseless and helpless in the face of the attacks of everyday life, the persecutions of injured vanity. In ancient tragedy, the heroes fell because of the gods. With Shakespeare and Verdi, it is the envy of men which destroys the outsider.” This would become one of the company’s iconic productions.
Since its successful premiere in 1887, Otello has catapulted audiences to the Shakespeare of Verdi. This is a world where all the essentials of storytelling meet the heightened emotions of an operatic score. Take, for example, the below duet between Otello (Domingo) and Iago (Sherrill Milnes), “Si, pel ciel.”
Plácido Domingo singing Otello for the first time at the Metropolitan Opera in 1979 (he had performed the role previously at other opera houses) alongside Sherrill Milnes as Iago
This Act II duet is a key turning point in the opera. Iago has spent the first half of the opera planting seeds of doubt and jealousy into Otello’s mind and, during this duet, those seeds are solidified into full blown jealous fury. (You can even see the physical manifestation of Iago’s manipulation, when Milne’s hand curves around Domingo’s head, as he kneels.) This is Iago triumphant. This duet showcases how perfectly all the elements of opera – including Verdi’s music – come together to create an emotional moment. The music heightens every emotional struggle experienced onstage, even teasing Otello’s impending doom towards the end (3:21).
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