The interpreters of the Otello which debuted on the 5th of February 1887, were the great Francesco Tamagno, Victor Maurel (Jago) and Romilda Pantaleoni (Desdemona); the opera soon became the conductors' favourite test bench, starting from Arturo Toscanini. The role of the protagonist has tempted many of the greatest tenors, from Ramon Vinay to Francesco Merli, up until Mario Del Monaco and Placido Domingo. Today, our protagonist, Gregory Kunde, is the referential interpreter.
The Venetian fleet has been sent to defend Cyprus from the invading Turks. The Moor Otello, a Venetian general and governor of Cyprus, lands his ship in the port announcing the destruction of the Turkish. Iago, Otello’s ensign, assures Roderigo that Desdemona, a Venetian just married to Otello and whom Roderigo is in love with, that she will soon be tired of her husband. While the people celebrate the governor’s victory, Iago proposes a toast and provokes Roderigo to get into a fight with Cassio. Montano, the former governor, tries to separate the two, but Cassio attacks him as well. Otello appears from the castle to restore order. When he sees Desdemona disturbed by the commotion, he declines the recent promotion to Cassio.
Iago advises Cassio to talk about his situation to Desdemona: her influence on Otello will get Cassio reinstated. Iago watches Cassio approaching Desdemona in the garden and when Otello enters, he casually talks about Desdemona’s fidelity. When, later on, Desdemona brings up Cassio’s demotion, Otello gets annoyed. She offers a handkerchief to help his headache, but he throws it to the ground. Her attendant Emilia, Iago’s wife, picks it up. As Desdemona tries to calm Otello, Iago steals the handkerchief from Emilia. Iago makes up stories about Desdemona and Cassio being more intimate than Otello thinks, making the general jealous and thirst for revenge.
Iago tells the general that soon he will have further proof of his wife and Cassio’s betrayal. Desdemona enters, and when she asks about Cassio's reinstatement again, Otello accuses her of infidelity and dismisses her. Iago returns with Cassio and the two are overheard by Otello talking about Desdemona. The dignitaries from Venice are announced and Otello, now blind with jealousy and rage, vows to kill his wife that very night. He then greets the ambassador Lodovico, who recalls him to Venice and appoints Cassio to govern Cyprus.
Emilia helps Desdemona preparing for bed. Frightened by her husband recent change, Desdemona recites her prayers. As soon as she has fallen asleep, Otello enters and wakes Desdemona with a kiss. When Otello starts talking about killing her, she is horrified and tries to persuade him about her innocence, but Otello strangles her. Emilia finds the body of Desdemona and asks for help. Iago’s plot is finally revealed and Otello realizes what he has done. After reflecting on his past glory he pulls out a dagger and stabs himself.