Premiere: 5th February 1887; La Scala, Milan; Italy.
Famous Composers in Attendance:
The following review appeared in the New York Times.
The first presentation to the public of Verdi's new opera, Otello last evening was a grand event in the history of Italian Musical art. La Scala was overcrowded with people representing all classes of Milan society, including all the Italian notabilities in the city or who could get here. Journalists and critics from all quarters of Europe were in attendance, with the managers of the chief European theatres and opera houses. No more critical or intellectual audience was ever brought together in La Scala to approve or condemn a new opera.
Boito's Libretto is an excellent drama, constructed in accordance with the principals of the Wagnerian reform. The first act of Shakespeare's splendid tragedy is entirely dispensed with by Boito, the action of the opera begining with the second act, but Boito with great pluck atones for the omissions by writing in several scenes which are grandly effective. Among those which are specially impressive is the quatuor between Otello and Desdemona, Iago and Emilia, when Iago robs his wife of Desdemona's handkerchief. Otello and Desdemona are present in this scene, which is a wide departure from Shakespeare's tragedy. There is also a very effective terzetto, in which Otello, hidden himself, overhears the conversation between Iago and Cassio in relation to Bianca, and mistakes the meaning as referring to Desdemona.
Verdi in his new work, has made a distinct ascent toward a higher musical plane than any which he has hitherto reached. He has abandoned the conventional forms of old Italian opera and created his work on an entirely different plane. The score is written with remarkable freshness of invention, and notwithstanding his daring evolution Verdi has sustained the Italian nationality of his work and the well know qualities of his genius will be recognized, though in a more brilliant light than heretofore.
The orchestration is one bright jewel of musical art. The storm at sea at the beginning of the opera is a grandly written page; Iago's toast is wholly original, and the "love duet" is an inspiration of emotion which has been christened by the public the "duo of the kiss." The applause at the end of the first act was simply frantic, and Verdi was compelled to respond to four recalls at the hands of the enthusiastic audience.
In the second act the remarkable conception of the quartello "Credo Iago" was marvelously well presented, and the duet between Otello and Iago was most effective. The maestro was recalled six times at the close of this act, and the enthusiastic demonstrations of approval were continued until sheer weariness compelled their cessation.
The third act proved less impressive on the audience as a whole, but gave satisfaction to the critical part of the assemblage by its dramatic power and profound instrumentation. The terzetto, by Iago, Otello, and Cassio, created a genuine sensation. The grand finale was irresistible in its effect, and resulted in the recall of the great Verdi five times.
The fourth act marks the crowning success of the opera. The device of the "Willow" romanza was a wonderful revelation of Verdi's power, and the Ave Maria was most moving. The duet between Otello and Desdemona ends the act and the opera most dramatcially.
After the curtain dropped on the final scene Verdi received an ovation. The demonstrations were suprising in their excessive enthusiasm. All the gentlemen and ladies were standing, swinging hats and handkerchiefs and crying loudly, "Viva Verdi!" The maestro came upon the scene with Boito, and then the beautiful Pantaleoni was led out by Verdi.
Throughout the opera, but praticulary in the fourth act, M. Maurel did wonderful work, both as an actor and singer, in his representation of Iago. Tamagno was very good as Otello, and displayed his powerful voice to the best advantage. Faccio proved a grand conductor, and the orchestra and chorus were perfect in their work. The costumes were according to drawings by Edel, and were picturesque and historically correct. The scenery was by Ferrari, and the opera was richly mounted.
Everybody agrees that Verdi in Otello has pointed out a new road to fame for the younger Italian masters. The stalls at last night's performance sold for 200f., ($40), seats for 100f., ($20,) and boxes from 500f. to 1200f., ($100 to $240.) Verdi was followed to his hotel by an imense multitude of admirers, who cheered him on his way. I visited the great maestro on the stage at the close of the opera, and found him very much moved by the generous reception given to him and his work.
(Companini New York Times, 7 Feb. 1887.)
Date: 11th January 1892
This performance was a trial performance. It was decided that, "Otello proved a puzzlement, being not Italian enough for the emerging Italian audience and too Italian for the Germans; nor was it a novelty." (Mayer 1983, 69). The Opera was not played again for almost three years. The following is a review of the opera as it appeared in the New York Times.
Verdi's Otello was performed at the Metroplitan Opera House last evening in the presence of an audience which ought to have been a great deal larger than it was. Possibly the fact that the house is sold out for Patti's appearance this evening may have had some bearing on the size of the assembly last evening…It is hardly conceivable that so noble a work as this masterpeice of Verdi's can fail to be popular with the stanch adherents of all that is best in what we call Italian opera.
The performance had some very commendable features. M. Jean de Reszke was a splendid figure as Otello, and sang the music with a most artistic appreciation of its dramatically declamatory character, yet without losing that indefinite grace of vocal expression which belongs to his school. His treatment of the role was beautifully plastic, but it lacked the portentous repose which we have learned to associate with the best interpretations of the part. On the whole, however, his performance was an excellent one, and deserved the hearty applause which it received.
Mme. Albani was heard once again as Desdemona. Her treatment of the part is sufficiently familiar to pass without any more extended comment than the statement that her voice showed signs of wear which must have made her old admirers somewhat unhappy.
Signor Camera was a tolerable Iago. At times he declaimed with vigor and earnestness, but in many places he fell short of the requirements of the situation; but his impersonation, as a whole, was deficient in subtlety and significance. The other members of the cast do not call for especial mention. The chorus was generally execrable, and the orchestra was hardly up to the mark; Louis Saar conducted.
(NY Times 1/12/1892, p. 1.)
Date: 3rd December 1894
The performance was critically acclaimed in the press with a balance of criticism. Mainly that Tamagno and Maurel were not vocally what they once had been. The following is the review as it appeared in the New York Times:
Signor Tamagno's Otello was made known to this public in 1890 as a vivid and powerful interpretation which justly entitled the tenor to the name of artist. In his performance of the part at that time he gave the impression of uncommon intelligence and high ideals. It is a truth and a pity that some of his recent work has done so much to destroy that impression and to convince thoughtful persons that his Otello owed more to the training of the Maestro Verdi than to the natural ability of the singer. Signor Maurel's Iago had not been heard here before last night, nor can it be said that the artist himself was at all well known by the public. It is twenty years since he visited America as a young man with only four years' experience on the stage. He returns to us with some of the freshness gone from his voice - never a great one - but with his art at its maturity and backed by an authority which few operatic idols possess. Last night these two men had associated with them a Desdemona, who, for personality and vocal charm, could not have been excelled. Mme. Eames may not be in some respects the ideal of Shakespeare's heroine, being, in some measure, more severe and un-yielding; but she fills the eye with grace and dignity, and she sings the music with a cool and polished excellence. Her performance last night was a fit companion picture to the two men. This is very high praise, for while Signor Tamagno's Otello has lost some of the dignity that the severe restraint of the master [Verdi] imposed upon it in earlier years, it has lost none of its tremendous power, its sweeping expression of fierce, over-mastering passion, and its superb vitality of declamation. No doubt this is why the master chose him for the role and made him famous. As for M. Maurel, he was a revelation to the public of the resources that go to make the art of a truly great singing actor. His work last night was charged with vitality and significance. His vocal work was full of finesse and his acting was masterly. In a word, he gave a performance which justified his claim to the title of one of the greatest operatic artists of the day.
-W. J. Henderson, New York Times. (Seltsam 1949, 69).
On February 10, 1996, the Met performed Otello for the 203rd time in it's history. This was the last performance of Otello for the 95/96 season. The cast included: Plácido Domingo, Aprile Millo and James Morris. James Levine conducted. It was also by co-incidence Domingo's 203rd performance as Otello. Otello also opened this season with Leving conducting. The cast this night included: Plácido Domingo, Renée Fleming and James Morris. This was Levine's 1500th performance with the Met.
Copyright © 1996, Stephen L. Parker.