Sun, 29. Mar 2020, 18:00
Giuseppe Verdi (1813 – 1901)
Andreas Kriegenburg portrays the story of Verdi's OTELLO as a drama depicting the fatal break-up of a great love in a society conditioned by war. One of literature's greatest love stories is doomed to failure – as with all other great love stories of literature: brutal, barbaric and futile.
The black Venetian war lord Otello, the prototype of a winner figure par excellence, husband of an able and undaunted young woman from a good family, is driven by jealousy to a state of fury that culminates in murder. Forced to recognise that he has been the victim of intrigue he kills himself as well and, dying, struggles to passionately kiss the dead body of his innocent beloved. Death in love? But Verdi is not Wagner, and we must cast serious doubt on his optimism regarding the question of whether dying in each others' arms can truly be the fulfilment of all life's wishes for togetherness.
A storm of immense metaphysical dimension overshadows the beginning of the work. Verdi creates an apocalyptic scenario at the beginning of his opera, in its sheer intensity vividly foreshadowing the threatening calamity. An island full of people, far away from home, surrounded by the raging sea, with scarcely any hope for the survivors of the campaign against the Turks to reach safe port. Iago's voice soars above a kind of choral “Dies irae”, imploring the disaster not as something to be feared but with the pleasure of plotting revenge. Contrary to Iago's expectations, the war hero Otello strides unscathed from the seething masses of water.
The antithesis of this apocalypse is the concept of love as a utopian alternative model. The requisite conditions for the realisation of this utopia appear to be fulfilled and set free enormous hopes. Desdemona loves Otello. Contrary to convention and ignoring all obstacles, she has freely, defiantly and confidently decided to join this man and follows him to the distant island of Cyprus to radically affirm the realisation of their mutual love. But the dream of a relationship without limitations is doomed to failure. The intensity of their love manifests itself in the painfulness of breaking apart and not in happiness. A single unclouded encounter, in which they passionately declare their love for each other and recall the complementary motives for their liaison, is their only moment of true happiness.
Iago's intrigues – beginning with the arrival of Otellos on Cypress – begin to bear fruit. Masterfully, he unleashes the mechanisms of manipulation. He concocts a puzzle of loosely spun moments of suspicion and traitorous polaroids, infusing Otello with the virus of jealousy and effortlessly piecing together a horror scenario of perfidious love and the compromising of his honour. A few well-aimed attacks suffice to unleash an avalanche of self-demolition, inevitably culminating in the most terrifying end possible. Seen in this light the honesty, innocence and objectivity of Desdemona and the magnitude of the intensity of her love assume a provocatively grotesque character and are the catalyser of a calamity which can now no longer be prevented.
The instigator is Iago, quiet and ruthless, glittering in his invidiousness, a shrewd judge of human character in his actions directed towards an inscrutable goal, driven by motives which must be greater than envy, jealousy and racism, and which are never made altogether clear. The circumstances nourishing his intrigues are the result of a society at war. The war makes a man of a man and then immediately destroys him. It brings the war hero profound happiness and a sense of existential rapture at the threshold of death.
The social climber Otello is a great warrior, a strategist with courage and a sense of responsibility. As a military commander, he appears to be virtually invulnerable, whether in battle against enemy forces or in the face of natural forces. His reflexes are trained and conditioned. Reaching decisions quickly – if necessary, even contrary to his own interests – poses no problems for him. The enemy lurks everywhere, as does violence, physical annihilation or – worse still – the loss of honour.
What is important for survival in war proves to be more of a hindrance in civil life. Involovement in a romantic relationship requires human qualities which spell the warrior's certain demise, and he is incapable of successfully changing from one sphere to the other. Showing himself as a human being makes Otello vulnerable. The experience of war and violence leads him to doubt that trust can be justified, that submitting to others is possible, and he sees happiness as merely an abstract and utopian notion. Otello loses his orientation. Too great is the contrast and the contradictions to war and the consequences still surrounding him. He senses the perspective of happiness as a provocation, perhaps even a trap. Only when Iago makes him an irresistible offer does he begin to regain his orientation and sureness: an enemy, the presumed destroyer of Otello's world of love, appears in his field of vision. Here, the profound emotional mistrust of the protagonist is revealed in his yearning for peace and the private bliss of love. Losing control in the arms of his beloved is a greater threat to him than reverting to the accustomed behavioural pattern of a warrior.
At this point Iago makes his decisive move, falsely deluding Otello by depicting a quasi-private war situation with the most primitive of means. In an almost Kafkaesque transformation, Desdemona's husband is driven to utter madness. The chain reaction of the human war machine takes its course.
Dramma lirico in 4 acts
Libretto by Arrigo Boito
Based on the tragedy OTHELLO, THE MOOR OF VENICE by William Shakespeare
First performed on 5th February, 1887 at Milan
Premiered at the Deutsche Oper Berlin on 30th May, 2010
Recommended from 14 years on