Opera in four acts by Giuseppe Verdi. Performed in Italian with German surtitles.
A hurricane threatens the holiday island of Cyprus, a military bastion in the Mediterranean strategically important for the Republic of Venice. The Venetian fleet under its commander Otello is in the midst of the hurricane. People on the beach appeal to God in fear of their imminent destruction. In the middle of this chaos are Cassio, recently promoted to Captain by Otello, and Montano, Otello’s predecessor in office. Standing apart is Ensign Iago, who had hoped to be promoted rather than Cassio, and is now plotting Otello’s downfall. He sees a potential ally in the Venetian gentleman Rodrigo who is in love with Otello’s wife Desdemona. Otello’s death could clear the way for him. Loud cheers announce that Otello has landed unharmed. The storm abates. The great victor suddenly appears. The world returns to normal, and there is a great celebration in honour of Otello’s safe return. Iago wins over Rodrigo as an ally in pursuing his hate for Otello. They make Cassio drunk, and provoke him. A row instigated by Iago erupts, and as expected Otello puts an end to the uproar which has awoken him and Desdemona. Otello establishes order and demotes Cassio. The peace which now returns to the night belongs to Otello and Desdemona.
Iago gains Cassio’s trust. He sends him to Desdemona to win her over as intercessor with Otello. Left alone, he spits out his disgust of a senseless world. In a world where God is not visible, Iago makes himself God, from whom there is no escape. His strategy starts to work: Cassio speaks to Desdemona, and he succeeds in arousing Otello’s mistrust of her. But first Otello is confronted with a blissful image: Desdemona amidst people who render her homage. When Desdemona speaks to him about Cassio, his mistrust develops. He rebuffs her. Iago too humiliates his own wife Emilia who is giving Desdemona her support. Otello retreats within himself at the sorrow of losing such trust. He demands that Iago produce evidence of his wife’s betrayal. Iago invents an erotic dream as evidence of Cassio’s love for Desdemona. Otello makes Iago his blood brother, and swears with him to take revenge for such a disgrace.
The pending arrival of the Venetian legation is of no interest to Otello. He listens closely to Iago who devises traps for Cassio and Desdemona. Desdemona’s unexpected visit to Otello is a welcome interruption. Following Iago’s instructions, he turns the conversation to the handkerchief she has lost. But Desdemona pleads again for clemency for Cassio. Her words wound Otello deeply. He is convinced of her betrayal and wallows in self-pity. Cassio’s death is decided. Iago shows Otello a hiding place where he can overhear a conversation arranged with Cassio. Otello hears only snatches of the conversation which he takes to be insinuations about Desdemona, and catches sight of her handkerchief in Cassio’s hand. Otello believes he now has the required proof. Iago and Otello decide to murder Desdemona. Otello promotes Iago to Captain. The Venetian legation arrives, headed by Lodovico on behalf of the Doge. Desdemona pleads again for Cassio. Otello humiliates her in front of the company and, instructed by the Venetians, announces that Cassio is to succeed him as governor. Iago presses Otello to kill Desdemona and sends Rodrigo to murder Cassio. Otello breaks down. Iago is triumphant.
Desdemona withdraws to her inner world. Emilia is unable to disburden her. Desdemona recalls the story of the Life and Death of a Woman. She prepares to take leave of the world. Otello arrives to kill her. Desdemona defends her innocence and her love. Otello does not believe her. He murders her. Emilia discovers the murder and summons witnesses. When Otello tries to justify his deed, with her handkerchief in Cassio’s hand as proof of Desdemona’s unfaithfulness, Emilia discovers her husband’s guilt. She pays for this with her life. Cassio has thwarted Rodrigo’s attempt on his life. Otello ends the life he has lost.