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Giuseppe Verdi


Ricordi's Disposizione Scenica

The following is excerpts from Guilio Ricordi's Dispsizione Scenica. This was published for the opera containing detailed information on the characters, scenery and stage actions. The source for these passages is from Julien Budden's The Opera's of Verdi. Volume 3.

The Stage for the First Act

  1. Moving blackcloth (the equivalent of a modern cyclorama) mounted on two revolving drums (ab). It should be about three times the length necessary to cover the back of the stage. First of all, at the rise of the curtain it should represent a night sky with large, black swirling clouds; the lightest part of the clouds should be made of transparent material; so also the two streaks of forked lightning which should reach diagonally across the entire sky from top left to bottom right…The blackcloth will move from left to right as the clouds will be seen gradually to disperse until it comes to a halt depicting the cloudless serenity of a clear night; in due course two or three little stars (not more) should appear; the brightest and most conspicuous of them should be more or less in the center, at half the height of the blackcloth.
  2. Fixed blackcloth (Tela). This represents a stormy sea; it should be agitated by various captains which will keep up a continuous movement until the end of the act. At the rise of the curtain it should violently be shaken by several stage-hands disposed at suitable points below, who should also move up and down a few wooden discs, not too rapidly, to for the crests of waves. The horizon must be made to appear as distant as the dimensions of the stage permit.
  3. Gauze curtain. This should cover the entire stage; later it will move slowly from left to right.
  4. Lateral parapet. This represents a wing of the castle with a practicable door.
  5. Lateral parapet. This continues the castle wing together with an inn door, also practicable; in front of this is a trellis supported on one side by the castle wall, on the other by three slender columns. Beneath this trellis three steel wires should be stretched on which in due course, about 60 centimeters high representing the castle ramparts facing towards the sea.
  6. Practicable elevations, about 60 centimeters high representing the castle ramparts facing towards the sea.
  7. Trees, rocks, walls, flats, and cut-outs which will close the view on the left and mask the commanding galley on the right.
  8. Distant galleys; they should be about a metre in length and cross the stage at the back from right to left with smooth simple motion.
  9. The commanding galley. This should be four or five metres in length according to the width of the stage; it should cross the stage with a movement suggestive of pitching and tossing.
  10. A trap door: this will serve for the bonfire as will appear later on.
  11. Electric lamps for sheet lightning.
  12. Electric lamp for forked lightning.
  13. (X) Bass drum especially constructed for thunder: two metres in length, 1-25 in diameter.

Lightning and Electric Light

Before the orchestra begins the lighting in the hall must be very considerably lowered.

On the stage it must be darkest night, so that the effects of the storm can be all the more impressive. When Iago descends from the ramparts there should be a little more light at the proscenium - when the bonfire and the Chinese lanterns are lit the general illumination of the stage should be increased and the lateral lights at the back should be adjusted so that when the sky clears it should be appropriately lit.

In the larger theaters there should be four electric lamps placed high up in the winds; in the smaller theaters two should suffice. At the rise of the curtain they should produce repeated and prolonged flashes which gradually become less; when the overcast sky on the movable blackcloth remains only on the right the flashes on the left will cease; those on the right will continue for a while, ceasing completely about a minute after the entire sky has become clear.

Behind the movable blackcloth the electric lamp (11) will produce lightning flashes in the manner indicated for those in the wings, now in one place, now in another, wherever the clouds are transparent. Lamp Number 12 should emit a full flash across the entire backcloth. During the tempest it should be switched on no more than three times; at the same time a stage operator with a reflector of about 40 square centimeters will hold this toward the electric lamp and rapidly transmit the reflected beam from top to bottom along the transparent lines of the backcloth which represent the forked lightning. [Disp. scen., pp. 9-10.]

Act One Quotes

1. Organ
In theaters where there is no organ an instrument should be used that is made of three or four pipes of low pitch in the timpani register which will be made to sound by a pair of hand-operated bellows. This is very easy to construct and can be obtained from any organ-builder. The producer should be advised that it is absolutely essential where no proper organ exists.
2. Placement of stage persons
Cassio and Montano are standing on the rear rampart (R); Iago and Roderigo on the diagonal (L); behind the former eight Cypriots; all are looking anxiously out to sea, gesticulating rapidly and repeatedly in the direction right: beneath the trellis another 10 or 12 chorus men (sailors, soldiers) are standing ready to come to the rescue; they too are looking out to sea and with much gesturing asking the others for news…As soon as the curtain rises a few extras run out of the castle, cross the stage rapidly and exeunt along the ramparts. These extras, who should be in groups of 2, 3, and 4, are making for the harbour to give assistance to the ships in distress…At the eighth bar of the opera the two distant galleys should be set in motion. After the trumpet calls the comman ding galley should begin its passage, buffeted by the waves. According to the width of the stage its speed should be calculated that it should have vanished into the wings by the time the chorus begin Dio, fulgor della bufera!
[Disp. scen., p. 11.]
3. Aita!
The chorus raise their arms to heaven crying, Aita while Iago, grasping Roderigo by the hand, comes hurriedly down the steps, clears a way through the crowd and comes forward in their midst to exclaim in tones of fierce hatred, L'alvo, etc.
[Disp. scen., p.13.]
4. Otello's entourage
The suite is indicated as follows: 2 soldiers with tourches, 2 captains bearing Otello's shield and helmet, a standard bearer, 8 guards; 2 men-at-arms; 4 members of the crew carrying a stretcher on which are trophies: 10 sailors carrying bales of merchandise and chests.
[Disp. scen., p. 13.]
5. Machinery
Machinery. Scarcely has Otello entered the castle when the gauze curtain should begin to move very slowly from Left to Right. The movement of the sea should gradually become less, the lightning flashes weaker and less frequent. The pedal notes of the organ should have continued without interruption even during Otello's recitative. When the gauze curtain has disappeared, the intensity of the footlights can be raised very slightly.
[Disp. scen., p. 15.]
6. Roderigo and Iago converse
Five or Six extras should enter up the ramp carrying trophies, oriental jars, bales, etc., representing the booty captured from the Turks. They come down the ramparts and enter the castle. The chorus looks on curiously, then stroll leisurely about backstage, forming small groups; a few young men approach the women and greet them in jocular fashion; some of the women should accept the arms offered to them. In general the scene should be lively but without excessive noise such as will attract attention or disturb to the slightest extent the conversation between Iago and Roderigo at the front of the stage.
[Disp. scen., p. 16.]
7. Cassio's entrance
Cassio comes out of the inn with a springing step, then seeing a few girls gathered beneath the trellised arbour goes up to them and enters into gallant conversation with them. The actor must make certain that all this is made clear to the audience.
[Disp. scen., p. 17.]
8. 'Se tu m'ascolti'
At the words, 'Se tu m'ascolti,' Iago takes Roderigo by the arm and they continue their conversation as they move away to the Right of the chorus, pass under the trellis and are lost to view backstage.
[Disp. scen., p. 19.]
9. The Fire Chorus
During the first chorus, the stage director will arrange for the following to take place: the mobile backcloth should have begun to move very slowly so that the public are unaware that it is doing so. In this way, the clouds will gradually disappear.
As soon as the chorus begins, three tables, two benches and two chairs should be brought out from the inn and placed outside and under the trellis, together with several cups and jars. Immediately afterwards 6 extras with 12 lighted Chinese lanterns (one in each hand) will come out of the inn and hang them on the wire beneath the trellis… Four extras will mount the practicable ramparts carrying large lighted Chinese lanterns on poles which they will affix to the ramparts themselves…They will be followed by about 20 or more extras and 8 or 10 boys and girls.
At this moment the lighting-hand should raise the lighting at the front of the stage and also by the backcloth so as to give the effect of a perfectly clear night.
[Disp. scen., p. 20-1.]
10. Cassio's re-entrance
Cassio comes out of the inn and forms a group near the table by the proscenium together with a few officers and the chorus; drinking with them he sits down on the chair nearest to the footlights. Iago and Roderigo come forward from backstage and place themselves Center by the footlights.
[Disp. scen., p. 21.]
11. Drinking.
On the chromatic scale at the word Beva the chorus mime the act of drinking (closed fist, thumb pointing towards the mouth).
[Disp. scen., p. 24.]
12. Cassio's Legs.
By now Cassio's legs are beginning to give way; he listens with his left hand on the table behind him, endeavoring to prop himself upright.
[Disp. scen., p. 24.]
13. The Duel.
The duel should be conducted so as to end with the wounding of Montano at the fourth bar from the foot of the page 88. It should be directed by someone with technical knowledge and practical ability in the art of fencing as it was practiced in the fifteenth century; it is a mixture of cut and thrust, proceeding not so much by repeated strokes as by rapid movements on the part of the combatants together with timely leaps and changes of position.
[Disp. scen., p. 27.]
14. Otello's emotion.
At the height of his emotion Otello feels his strength give way; Desdemona passes to the left and while he sinks back she follows him and gives him support; at the words, Mi gicaio Otello leans against the ramparts and sits down on one of the flights of steps leading up to them, almost in a faint.
[Disp. scen., p. 34.]

Act Two Quotes

15. Lay-out of the scene.
The lay-out of this scene, to which Verdi evidently attached great importance, is amplified in the Production Book approximately as follows: the backcloth represents the garden and the sea. In front of this is an avenue running laterally from left to right in the form of one of those practicable elevations 60 centimeters high in which the scenery of the opera abounds. From this a ramp descends towards the front of the stage, flanked by bushes and trees. This terminates in a wide arch panelled with glass representing a window of the hall in which all the subsequent dialogue will take place. There is a balcony right with a door leading to the garden. Left is the door by which Otello will enter.
[Disp. scen., p. 34.]
16. Iago starts his Credo.
Iago will have followed [Cassio] for two or three paces; then he stops, and following [him] with his eye, immediately changes his expression and mode of utterance. He is no longer the gay and openhearted character of a moment before; he reveals instead the most repulsive cynicism. As he says, E tuo dimon son io, he turns towards the audience and at the words, Inesorato Iddio, comes forward to the footlights and stands in an attitude of sardonic cruelty.
[Disp. scen., p. 57.]
17. The Credo ends.
At the final words, è vecchia fola il Ciel, he shrugs his shoulders, turns away and moves upstage.
[Disp. scen., p. 37.]
18. Desdemona's scene.
The Production Book makes it clear that there are two quite separate choruses in this scene: (1) the 'coro speciale' (4 sopranos, 4 contraltos, 6 tenors, 6 baritones and basses, 8 boys) who will appear on stage together with the players of mandolins and guitars (5 or 6 apiece) and an extra who mimes the playing of the cornamusa. This choir will sing the solos in the episodes which follow; if the boys are weak their line can be reinforced by two of the contraltos. The main part (2) of the chorus, which should be invisible, stand in the wings backstage left with a harmonium near by. They will sing the accompaniments. There is no mention of the guzlas or portable harps. They boys have Lilies in their hands, the women Roses and Geraniums, the basses Coral necklaces and brooches of pearls.
[Disp. scen., p. 41-2.]

Act Three Quotes

19. Act III scene.
The Production Book specifies a series of receding arches ending in the inevitable elevation of 60 centimeters. The backcloth should give a view of the sea and a wing of the castle.
[Disp. scen., p. 55.]
20. 'Dio mi potevi.'
After the extremes of violent emotion aroused in the previous scene with Desdemona, Otello is in a state of general prostration. In this period his voice is stifled, his words broken by pain and sobbing; complete immobility is necessary apart from some slight movement of the head: only at the words: È rassegnato al volere del ciel. Otello should raise his right arm towards heaven, and his voice should become firmer and more definite; at the same time he should rise to his feet and take two or three paces downstage.
[Disp. scen., p. 62.]
21. Second period of 'Dio mi potevi'.
So to the second period, which needs to be sung more expressively as he remembers past joys.
[Disp. scen., p. 62.]
22. Third period of 'Dio mi potevi'.
Otello should come forward another couple of paces for the third period which begins with the words, Tu alfin, Clemenza, and his mind should aspire to loftier thoughts.
[Disp. scen., p. 62.]
23. Fourth period of 'Dio mi potevi'
…But then he should move rapidly and without any transition…Here he should break out in a savage, fearful inexorable fury like a thunderbolt. Otello cries: 'Ah, dannazione…Pria confessi il delitto…e poscia muoia!' and his words should increase in power and violence.
[Disp. scen., p. 62.]
24. Positions for the Grand scene.
Otello comes forward and takes up a position by a column. At the same time enter immediately the Chorus left: (Ladies, Gentlemen, Knights, Captains, etc…); the tenors should arrange themselves on the right, the women and the basses on the left; note that as there are only a few bars of orchestra the Chorus should be ready to execute this movement so as to be already in position at the start of the ff 'Viva!' While the Chorus enter, the ten guards of honour should mount the raised parapet backstage, together with the ensign, who should carry the banner.
From the left enter the 16 guards; they should range themselves backstage by the steps leading from the parapet; behind them 4 trumpeters who should take up a position on the steps themselves, on either side; they should pretend to play to the end of the fortissimo of the offstage trumpets, thereafter holding their instruments by their right sides; behind the trumpeters enter 4 Councillors, 2 Captains, 4 Venetian nobles, 4 Knights, 2 young Venetians, 2 gentlemen…behind them the Herald accompanying Lodovico who holds a parchment; behind Lodovico enter Roderigo; at the same time from the door right enter Desdemona escorted by Iago; behind them Emilia; they cross the stage and take up a position left. These last three characters should be in position before the entry of Lodovico.
From the same door right enter 4 Knights of the Garter - 4 pages-in-waiting on Desdemona, 4 pages-in-waiting on Otello…The Herald should come to a halt in the center of the stage after having bowed to Lodovico.
[Disp. scen., p. 72-3.]

Act Four Quotes

25. Act IV scene.
The only two props of any significance added by the Production Book are a chest of drawers from which Emilia will take Desdemona's wedding dress and on which Otello will lay his scimitar, and a fine chandelier of wrought iron in Moorish style with colored glass; it hangs from the ceiling by a chain of ornaments, also of wrought iron and with a chord of darkish color; it is lighted. Great importance, however, is attached to the colour scheme of the bedroom. Although the room should be richly appointed and elegant in its general effect, it should have an air of tranquility and almost of sadness; the furniture should be of seasoned oak, carved and with panelling cut in squares; some of the decorations should be of gold. The pillows, the chairs, the couch, the coverlet and the curtains of the bed should be of blue-green plush. On the bed there should be a pillow with a pillow-case of white cloth with lace embroidery.
[Disp. scen., p. 86-7.]
26. 'Mi discio gli le chiome'.
Desdemona turns slightly towards Emilia, who passes behind her and, removing a kind of brooch which binds her mistress's hair, allows it cascade upon her shoulders; she puts the brooch away in a jewel box.
At the return of the 'Willow Song' Desdemona clasps her hands, rests her elbows on the little table and so supports her head; she moves from this position as she says, 'Sale'. Emilia passes right behind the table and takes up a listening attitude.
Desdemona rises to her feet but without moving away from the chair; and as she finishes the first part, 'Sarà la mia ghirlanda', she resumes her seat almost mechanically.
'Scendean l'augelli a vol'
She raises her left arm as though indicating the flight of the birds, gradually lowers it, keeping it outstretched.
'E gli occhi suoi'
She remains motionless with an expression of extreme sorrow: then suddenly her gaze alights upon a ring which she wears on her finger; she removes it, and turning Right, hands it to Emilia saying, 'Riponi quest'anello.' Emilia puts it away in the casket.
'Povera Barbara'
She rises to her feet with an air of grief; then she comes downstage two or three paces, saying with great simplicity, 'Solea la storia'…Emilia moves slightly left.
Just as she is about to finish the song she seems to hear a groan, and suddenly stops short; turning towards Emilia she makes a sign of listening.
'Odo un lamento'
Alarmed, she takes a couple of paces backstage, while Emilia also moves in the same direction, then she suddenly turns to speak. Desdemona says to her, 'Be silent,' then, troubled once more, points to the door Left and cries out:
'Chi bate a quell porta?'
Emilia goes hurriedly to the door, then turns and reassures Desdemona as she replies, 'È il vento.'
Desdemona recovers her calm; and turning towards the audience comes forward slowly for a couple of paces, then she resumes her former position to finish the song: Emilia should have moved a little nearer to her.
'Salce! Salce! Salce!'
This last lament should be sung with a strange, mournful voice that seems to come from a distance; then Desdemona should remain motionless for a moment; then as though to dispel such gloomy thoughts she pulls herself together, turns to Emilia and says to her affectionately: 'Emilia, addio.'
'Come m'ardon le ciglia!'
She covers her eyes with one hand; she remains thoughtful, adding with great sadness: 'È presagio di pianto.'
'Buona notte.'
She speaks with decision, making a gesture of salutation to Emilia; Emilia returns the salutation and moves slowly and sadly towards the door left.
Seeing Emilia go, Desdemona recalls her with the passionate cry: 'Ah! Emilia!' and takes two steps towards her. Emilia halts, turns and runs to Desdemona, who enfolds her in an affectionate embrace, then dismisses her with a kiss on the forehead. These movements should be calculated so that the embrace takes place exactly on the second 'Emilia, addio.'
[Disp. scen., p. 89-91.]
27. Iago's Denial.
Iago cries, 'No!' draws his sword and brandishes it wildly to prevent anyone from approaching him; at the same time he takes a leap, darts between the two guards and escapes through the door.
[Disp. scen., p. 105-6.]

Copyright © 1996, Stephen L. Parker.