Wine and Opera part 7: Otello

18th March, 2014 by Rupert Millar

“Qua, ragazzi, del vino!”

otello-movie-poster-1914-1020433998Verdi’s Otello features another of the composer’s many drinking scenes and this one is particularly important as it’s where the treacherous Iago and scheming Roderigo begin to put their conspiracy against the noble Moor into action.

The opera is actually very faithful to the play except that it opens with the main characters already on Cyprus.

Othellophiles will know therefore will know the background that the events of the play, which begins in Venice, layout, namely the marriage of Desdemona to Otello and the first stirrings of a plot against him by Iago and Rederigo.

Roderigo wants Desdemona, the beautiful daughter of the Venetian senator Brabantio, to be his, while Iago is jealous that Otello has promoted a young officer called Cassio above him.

From there on in, the opera follows the same, tormented, jealous, tragic course of the play.

Otello is tricked into believing Desdemona and Cassio are having an affair, in a rage he kills her only for the truth to come out at the end whereupon, shamed and distraught, he plunges a dagger into his own chest.

The crucial brindisi in Otello is sung by Iago. He and Roderigo have been plying Cassio with wine as part of the beginning of their plot to discredit him in Otello’s eyes.

As Cassio becomes aware of his drunkenness he tries to leave but Iago makes him stay, “Inaffia l’ugola”, he sings, “wet your throats”.

Iago: “Innaffia l’ugola!
Trinca, tracanna!
Prima che svampino
canto e bicchier.”

“Wet your throats!
Drink up, gulp it down!
Before song and glass disappear.”

Cassio: “Quaesta del pampino verace manns
Di vaghe annugola
Nebbie il pensier.”

“The vine’s truth-giving manna
beclouds my mind,
with lovely mists.”

Iago: “Chi all’esca ha morso
Del ditirambo
Spavaldo e strambo
Beva con me!”

“He who has succumbed
To this magic drink,
Bold and strange,
Drink with me.”

Another officer, Mantano, appears whom Cassio is supposed to be relieving on watch. However, he so drunk he can barely stand.

Iago explains this is how Cassio often is. Roderigo laughs at him and Cassio lunges at Roderigo in turn which results in a brawl which is only broken up by the arrival of Otello.

He asks what caused the duel and when “faithful” Iago tells him, he strips Cassio of his command. From then on, Otello no longer trusts Cassio and is prey to every vile untruth that Iago pours into his ear about his former protégé – leading, ultimately, to the final tragedy.

The video is from Franco Zeffirelli’s 1986 film version, with Justino Diaz as Iago and Urbano Barberini as Cassio. The great Placido Domingo appears at the end in his role as Otello.

Next time: devilish promises in the damnation of Faust
Previously: the fall of Don Giovanni

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