A harbour. Evening. The triumphant arrival of Otello, the new governor,
is interrupted by a sudden storm. The tempest has already taken the lives of
dozens of sailors and townspeople while the sea continues to throw corpses and
wrecked ships onto the shore. The lighthouse ceases to function. The townspeople
look for Otello among the bodies – few believe it possible to survive such
Suddenly Otello?s voice can be heard above the panicked
crowd. The people greet him in delight that he has survived.
The storm fades
and the lighthouse is lit anew. Attempts are made to clear away the debris.
Those who are drenched and shaken are given warm clothing, food and drink.
Iago, Otello?s comrade-in-arms and retainer, is among those overseeing the
clearing-up process, though he is deeply envious of his patron. Iago cannot
forgive Otello for appointing the young Cassio and not him to a high rank. In
revenge, Iago plots to incite the Venetian Roderigo against Cassio, Roderigo
being in love with Otello?s wife Desdemona. Iago convinces Roderigo that the
handsome young Cassio is his rival.
Provoked by Iago, Roderigo quarrels with
Cassio. In vain Montano, the island?s former governor, tries to pacify them –
beside himself, Cassio beats him mercilessly.
Hearing raised voices, Otello
comes from his house, followed by Desdemona. Otello punishes Cassio for his
crime, stripping him of his military rank, and tells Iago to restore order.
Night. The deserted shore. Alone at last, Otello and Desdemona tenderly
recall the past, caught up in the delight of being together. Affairs of State,
disasters and bloodshed all cease to exist when they are alone together.
Morning. Otello?s new study, as yet unusable
following his arrival. Iago and Cassio bring in their superior?s belongings.
Widows of sailors lost in the storm are waiting in the ante-room.
with his cunning plot, Iago assures Cassio that with Desdemona?s protection he
can retrieve his lost honour and title: everyone knows that the new governor is
hopelessly in love with his wife and will grant her every wish.
herself appears: she is amused with Iago and his wife Emilia?s sons who are
playing. As yet her marriage to Otello has not produced any children... Cassio
approaches Desdemona and begins to speak. As if by chance, Iago draws Otello?s
attention to them. Shamming anxiety he confidentially advises: "Temete, signor,
Otello, though angry and disturbed, remains unshakable:
Desdemona, whose beauty, grace and gentle nature are praised by the entire
island, is incapable of treachery.
Desdemona turns to her husband, asking
compassion for Cassio. Without realising it she thus aids Iago, fuelling
Otello?s jealousy. Not knowing the cause of his wrath, Desdemona wishes to cool
her husband?s forehead with her handkerchief. Otello wrenches the cloth from his
wife?s hands in fury and throws it on the floor. Emilia picks it up to give to
her mistress but Iago seizes the handkerchief from his wife. It will be of use
to him later...
Desdemona and Emilia leave. Otello is anxious – he both
believes and disbelieves the tortuous suspicions that are tearing at his soul.
Farewell to everything – love and happiness, glory and life! In anger Otello
throws himself on Iago and swears to destroy him if he has defamed Desdemona. In
a pretence of despair, Iago is ready to submit proof – if he is forced to do so:
once at night he heard Cassio say Desdemona?s name in his sleep and he has seen
him with her handkerchief, a wedding present from Otello. Taking control of
himself, Otello goes to the townspeople and relatives of those who died and
makes an official speech to mark the day of mourning.
Daytime. The hall in the governor?s house has been prepared to bid
farewell to the sailors lost in the storm, and the event is to be attended by
the various ambassadors in Venice.
Otello is obsessed with the thought of
his wife?s infidelity. Seeing Desdemona in the hall, Otello asks her to tie the
handkerchief he gave her on their wedding day on his head. Unable to find the
handkerchief and paying little attention to her husband?s request, Desdemona
again begins to speak of Cassio. Otello is furious: he demands the handkerchief
he gave her on their wedding day! In vain Desdemona assures him of her fidelity.
Mad with jealousy, Otello drives her out. Alone, he cannot reconcile himself
with the idea that he could lose his love: everything he has done and believed
in will collapse.
Iago continues to weave his web of deceit: now he intends
to convince Otello of his complete devotion, advising him to hide and carefully
observe all that happens. Then, having summoned Cassio, Iago enters into an
ambiguous conversation, subtly juggling with the names of two women – Desdemona
and Bianca, Cassio?s beloved. Iago asks Cassio to show him the handkerchief that
he himself has placed in his room. The serene Cassio admires the beautiful
Convinced of his wife?s treachery, Otello decides that he
will kill her himself. He orders Iago to obtain poison, but the latter advises
him to strangle Desdemona in bed. Iago himself undertakes to deal with Cassio.
The ambassadors arrive at the grandiose funeral ceremony for the sailors.
Lodovico, one of the ambassadors, informs Otello that he has a new position and
Cassio will be his successor. On hearing this Otello is enraged: a man he hates
appointed to such an exalted position! The presence of Desdemona and her kind
words about Cassio intensify the blow. Rudely insulting Desdemona, Otello
demands that the guests leave the hall and falls senseless.
The people on
the square chant "Behold the Lion of Venice".
Otello and Desdemona?s bedroom. In the morning they are to leave the island.
Desdemona is seized with dire premonitions. She sings an old, melancholic song
about a poor girl who is abandoned by her lover and is transformed into a willow
tree. In vain Emilia tries to soothe her mistress – despondent with gloomy
thoughts, Desdemona bids her farewell and prays.
Otello appears. Unable to
find the strength to carry out his plan, he attempts to make her admit to her
sins – in vain Desdemona swears her innocence, in vain she begs for mercy. For
the last time Otello takes his wife in his strong arms...
Emilia runs in:
Cassio has just killed Roderigo who attacked him, provoked by Iago. Otello
admits murdering his wife. Hearing Emilia?s scream, people run in. Before
everyone, she exposes Iago – it was he who took the handkerchief from her in
order to defame Desdemona. Otello kills himself so he can share his wife?s