Original image of act III set from Otello.
The concertate from act III of Otello has long been a favorite scene in the history of opera. With that in mind, I’m shocked at the disparity of views on YouTube between this and the arias and duets from Otello.
People are missing the good stuff. This is our latest “other than arias” submission.
Otello atto III final
Domingo, Frittoli & Nucci
The scene is terrifyingly distasteful in its 16th-century Shakespearean context. The treatment of Desdemona by Otello is horrifying, or at least should be, in our culture.
Traditionally Otello hurtles Desdemona to the ground at this point in the drama as he is convinced of her infidelity with Cassio. Infidelity is still in fashion but publicly throwing one's spouse to the ground in front of the Doge (the executive commander of the Venetian Republic), well, that has gone out of fashion.
The video clip I’ve included is particularly chilling. Otello, here portrayed by Placido Domingo, doesn’t throw her to the ground but orders her to prostrate herself before him.
Otello- 3. A terra!... si...
1955 Tebaldi MET
I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a more effective moment in an opera. I can taste the shame and disgrace that must fill Desdemona’s mouth.
The rest of the scene hits me wrong, though, because the music is different than the standard version of Otello. This is apparently from the Paris version Verdi put together in 1894, which also included ballet music in the third act.
It feels as though Verdi’s heart wasn’t in it and indeed it wasn’t for the ballet music. According to classical.net Verdi thought the ballet music was, "artistically speaking, it is a monstrosity."
I’m unable to find a resource that explains why Verdi rewrote this. At least I can’t find it online. Maybe I’ll darken the door of a university library at some point and find out the truth.