Otello (Rossini)

Otello (Italian pronunciation: [oˈtɛllo]) is an opera in three acts by Gioachino Rossini to an Italian libretto by Francesco Maria Berio di Salsa. The work, which premiered in December 1816, is based on a French adaptation of the story (Othello, ou le More de Venise by Jean-François Ducis, 1792), not Shakespeare's play Othello as neither Rossini nor his librettist knew the English drama.[1]

Opera by Gioachino Rossini
Manuel Garcia as Otello in Paris, 1821
LibrettistFrancesco Maria Berio di Salsa
4 December 1816 (1816-12-04)

The plot of the libretto differs greatly from Shakespeare's play in that it takes place wholly in Venice, not mainly on Cyprus, and the dramatic conflict develops in a different manner. The role of Iago is much less diabolical than Shakespeare's play or Verdi's 1887 opera Otello, which was based on it. Shakespeare derived his play from the story Un Capitano Moro ("A Moorish Captain") by Cinthio, a disciple of Boccaccio, first published in 1565.[2][3]In further contrast, the role of Roderigo, a sub-plot in Shakespeare and Verdi, is very prominent in Rossini's version—some of the most difficult and brilliant music being assigned to the character Rodrigo. The roles of Otello, Iago, and Rodrigo are all composed for the tenor voice.

Rossini's Otello is an important milestone in the development of opera as musical drama. It provided Giuseppe Verdi with a benchmark for his own adaptations of Shakespeare. A 1999 Opera Rara CD of the opera includes an alternative happy ending, a common practice with drama and opera at that period of the 19th century.[4]

Performance history

19th century

The first performance took place at the Teatro del Fondo in Naples on 4 December 1816. It was first performed in Paris on 5 June 1821 at the Théâtre Italien (with Manuel Garcia as Otello and Giuditta Pasta as Desdemona),[5] in London on 16 May 1822 at the King's Theatre, and in New York on 7 February 1826 at the Park Theatre.[6]

Curiously, though the role of Iago is indicated in the early scores as that of a tenor and was taken up in the early years by tenors Ciccimarra, Luigi Campitelli, Domenico Reina, only three years after the premiere, Rossini adapted the role for the baritone voice and it was frequently sung thereafter by baritones, including the most renowned bel canto-era "secondo basso cantante", transitional baritones, and practicing Verdian baritones of the 19th century.

During this period Iago was assigned to the Italian sometimes-second-tenor, sometimes-baritone Giovanola at the Théâtre Italien in Paris on 26 July 1823 with Giuditta Pasta as Desdemona. The Spanish baritone (later pedagogue) Manuel García, Jr. sang the role on his family's trip to the New York in 1826. The Italian baritone Ferdinando Lauretti sang it at Verona in 1827 and a review of this performance was dispatched to London's The Harmonicon, which mentions his "character of Iago, a part for a bass which was greatly improved by Rossini, during his engagement at your Italian opera."[7] Domenico Cosselli sang the role at Turin's Teatro d'Angennes in 1828, as did the Italian primo basso Federico Crespi (1833), Antonio Tamburini (from 1834), Luciano Fornasari (in 1844), Giovanni Belletti (in 1849), Joseph Tagliafico in 1850, Giorgio Ronconi (from 1851), Francesco Graziani (from 1869), and Antonio Cotogni (in 1869). French baritone Paul Barroilhet appeared in 1844 in Paris, where he interpolated the aria "" (transposed from C to B-flat) from Rossini's La donna del lago. His successor, Jean-Baptiste Faure, sang the role in 1871.

A French printed edition from 1823 already shows Iago's part written in the bass clef.

20th century and beyond

After a long period of relative neglect, in the late 20th century the opera began once more to appear on the world's stages. A production by Pier Luigi Pizzi was given at the Pesaro Festival in 1988.[8] The same production was performed at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden in 2000 with Bruce Ford, Mariella Devia and Juan Diego Flórez in leading roles.[9]

In October 2012, Opera Southwest in Albuquerque, New Mexico presented three performances of the opera. The first gave both the original and the alternative "happy" ending. Prior to the second performances, the audience voted for the ending they preferred, and the chosen version was then performed.[10][11] Also in 2012, the opera was staged in Zurich by the Vlaamse Opera. The same production was given in Ghent and Antwerp in February and March 2014. [12] Buxton Festival presented the opera in concert form in July 2014.[13]

Otello was performed in a production at the Theater an der Wien and the Oper Frankfurt in 2019, with Enea Scala in the title role, cast by Damiano Michieletto as a successful Muslim Arab in today's Venetian business world, with Nino Burjanadze as Desdemona.[14]


Role Voice type Premiere Cast, 4 December 1816
(Conductor: - )
Otello tenor Andrea Nozzari
Desdemona mezzo-soprano Isabella Colbran
Rodrigo tenor Giovanni David
Iago tenor Giuseppe Ciccimarra
Emilia mezzo-soprano Maria Manzi
Elmiro (Brabantio) bass Michele Benedetti
The Doge of Venice tenor Gaetano Chizzola
Lucio tenor Nicola Mollo
A gondolier tenor Nicola Mollo


Place: Venice
Time: End of the 15th Century

According to the booklet of the Milanese representations of 1818:

"Otello, African to the service of Adria (Venice), victor returns from a battle against the Turks. A secret wedding ties him to Desdemona, daughter of his enemy, Elmiro Patrizio Veneto, already promised to Rodrigo, son of the Doge. Jago, another frustrated lover of Desdemona and hidden enemy of Otello, in order to be revenged of perceived wrongs, pretends to favor the love-suit of Rodrigo; an intercepted letter of the latter, by means of which Otello is led to believe his wife unfaithful, forms the texture of the action, which ends with the death of Desdemona, pierced by Otello, leading him to go mad, after uncovering the deceit of Jago and the innocence of his wife.”

As in Verdi's Otello, Desdemona's aria "Salce" ("Willow Song") is a pivotal moment in the final act.

Franz Liszt based the Canzone from the Années de Pèlerinage supplement Venezia e Napoli on the offstage gondolier's song "Nessun maggior dolore" from this opera.


Year Cast:
Opera House and Orchestra
Label [15]
1978 José Carreras,
Frederica Von Stade,
Gianfranco Pastine,
Salvatore Fisichella
Jesus Lopez Cobos,
Ambrosian Opera Chorus, Philharmonia Orchestra
Audio CD: Philips
Cat: 432 456-2. For details, see here
1988 Chris Merritt,
June Anderson,
Ezio Di Cesare,
Rockwell Blake
John Pritchard,
Orchestra and Chorus of RAI Torino
(Video recording of a performance in the Rossini Opera Festival, Pesaro, August)
DVD: Encore
DVD 2223
1999 Bruce Ford,
Elizabeth Futral,
Juan José Lopera,
William Matteuzzi
David Parry,
Philharmonia Orchestra and the Geoffrey Mitchell Choir
Audio CD: Opera Rara
Cat: ORC 18
2008 Michael Spyres,
Jessica Pratt,
Giorgio Trucco,
Filippo Adami
Antonino Fogliani,
Virtuosi Brunensis and the Transilvania Philharmonic Choir
(Recorded at a performance at the Rossini in Wildbad festival)
Audio CD: Naxos Records,
Cat: 8.660275-76
2012 John Osborn,
Cecilia Bartoli,
Edgardo Rocha,
Javier Camarena
Muhai Tang,
Orchestra La Scintilla, Zurich Opera,
(Recording of a performance given by the Zurich Opera, March)
Blu-ray Disc: Decca,
Cat: 074 3865



  1. Wills, Garry (2011). Verdi's Shakespeare: Men of the Theater. New York, NY: Penguin Group. pp. 86. ISBN 0143122223.
  2. "About Othello". CliffsNotes.
  3. "Cinthioʹs Tale: The Source of Shakespeareʹs Othello" (PDF). St. Stephen's School.
  4. "Otello" on Opera Rara website, accessed 1 April 2015.
  5. James Radomski, Manuel García (1775–1832): Chronicle of the Life of a bel canto Tenor at the Dawn of Romanticism, p. 149. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780198163732.
  6. Gossett and Brauner, in Holden, p. 779
  7. Pinnock, W. (1827). The Harmonicon: A Journal of Music (Vol IV ed.). London: Samuel Leigh. p. 171. Retrieved 10 September 2014.
  8. "Otello". rossinioperafestival. Retrieved 8 April 2018.
  9. "Otello - 31 January 2000 Evening". ROH Collections Online. Retrieved 8 April 2018.
  10. Opera Southwest's Past Performances on operasouthwest.org. Retrieved 2 September 2013.
  11. Brian Kellow, "Opera Southwest mounts Rossini's seldom-heard Otello – with your choice of endings", Opera News (New York), September 2012, on operasouthwest.com. Retrieved 2 September 2013
  12. "Rossini's Otello" in the 'Past Production Report' section of London's Donizetti Society website
  13. Hugill, Robert (21 July 2014). "Rossini's Otello (Review of Buxton Festival Concert Performance)".
  14. Molke, Thomas (8 September 2019). "Der etwas andere Otello". omm.de (in German). Online Musik Magazin. Retrieved 10 September 2019.
  15. Recordings of Otello on operadis-opera-discography.org.uk


  • Gossett, Philip; Brauner, Patricia (2001), "Otello" in Holden, Amanda (ed.), The New Penguin Opera Guide, New York: Penguin Putnam. ISBN 0-14-029312-4
  • Osborne, Charles (1994), The Bel Canto Operas of Rossini, Donizetti, and Bellini, Portland, Oregon: Amadeus Press. ISBN 0931340713
  • Osborne, Richard, Rossini (1990), Ithaca, New York: Northeastern University Press. ISBN 1-55553-088-5
  • Osborne, Richard (1998), Otello, in Stanley Sadie, (Ed.), The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, Vol. Three. pp. 789–90. London: Macmillan Publishers, Inc. ISBN 0-333-73432-7 ISBN 1-56159-228-5
  • Senici, Emanuele (ed.) (2004), The Cambridge Companion to Rossini, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-80736-4 ISBN 978-0-521-00195-3
  • Servadio, Gaia (2003), Rossini, New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers. ISBN 0-7867-1195-7
  • Toye, Francis (1997 re-print), Rossini: The Man and His Music, Dover Publications, 1987. ISBN 0486253961 ISBN 0-486-25396-1,
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