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As a tempest rages in the harbor of Cyprus,
citizens await the return of their governor,
Otello, a Moorish general in the Venetian
army. When his ship is sighted, the Cypriots
call on heaven to spare it.
Safely in port, Otello proclaims victory
over the Turks ("Esultate!") Otello then
enters his castle. His ensign, Iago, angered
because a rival,Cassio, has been promoted
to captain, plots his own advancement by
fanning the secret desires of Roderigo, a
Venetian dandy, for Otello's wife, Desdemona.
Meanwhile, the Cypriots gather around a
bonfire. Iago, leading a drinking song
(brindisi: "Inaffia l'ugola,") forces the easily
intoxicated Cassio to drink a toast to Otello
and his bride; the ensign next provokes
Roderigo to duel with the reeling Cassio.
Otello, awakened by the brawl, storms
out to demand an explanation; Iago pretends
ignorance. As Desdemona joins her husband,
he demotes Cassio, instructing Iago to restore
order. Otello and Desdemona, left alone,
tenderly recall their courtship ("Gi nella
notte densa ") and kiss three times before
re-entering the castle.
By the castle garden, Iago advises Cassio to
seek Desdemona's aid in regaining Otello's
favor. Cassio goes off, leaving Iago to
describe his view of his creator, a cruel
demon who gives him ideas for evil
On Otello's arrival, the ensign makes
innuendos about Desdemona's fidelity as
they see her in the garden with Emilia (Iago's
wife) and Cassio; yet he warns the Moor to
beware of jealousy. Women, children and
sailors bring flowers to Desdemona, whose
beauty softens Otello's suspicions, but when
she approaches him about Cassio's
reinstatement, he grows irritable. Fearing he
is ill, she tries to soothe his brow with a
handkerchief, which he throws to the ground.
Desdemona, confused, pleads her devotion,
while Iago furtively wrenches the
handkerchief from Emilia, who has retrieved
When the women leave, Otello accuses
his ensign of destroying his peace of mind.
Iago answers the Moor's demand for proof by
pretending he has heard Cassio murmur
Desdemona's name in his sleep ("Era la
notte"); worse he says he saw in Cassio's
hand the strawberry-embroidered
handkerchief Otello gave her when he first
courted her. Seconded by Iago, Otello vows
vengeance ("Si, pel ciel.")
In the armory, Iago tells Otello that more proof
is forthcoming and then departs as
Desdemona greets her husband ("Dio ti
giocondi.") The Moor hints at his suspicions
but she fails to understand. When he
demands the handkerchief he once gave her,
she again pleads for Cassio, driving Otello to
call her a courtesan. Tearfully, Desdemona
swears her innocence; the Moor sends her
Spent with rage, Otello wishes heaven
had taxed him with any affliction but this ("
Dio! mi potevi scagliar,") then hides at the
approach of Cassio and Iago. The ensign,
flashing the handkerchief, manipulates
Cassio's banter about his mistress, Bianca, so
that Otello thinks they are joking about
Desdemona. Cassio leaves as trumpets
announce dignitaries from Venice. Otello
swears to kill his wife.
In the great hall, the court enters to
welcome Lodovico, the ambassador, who
presents papers recalling Otello to Venice
and naming Cassio governor. Otello loses
self-control and hurls Desdemona to the floor.
She begs forgiveness for her supposed
crime. The courtiers try to console her, but
Otello orders them out. As the Moor falls
unconscious in a fit, Iago ironically salutes
him as the "Lion of Venice."
In her room, as Emilia helps her prepare for
bed, Desdemona sings a song about a maid,
Barbara, who was forsaken by her lover
(willow song: "Salce! Salce!") Startled by
the wind she bids her companion goodnight,
says her prayers ("Ave Maria ") and retires.
Otello steals in and tenderly kisses
Desdemona. When she awakens, he tells her
to prepare for death; though she protests her
innocence, he strangles her.
Emilia knocks with news that Cassio has
slain Roderigo. Hearing Desdemona's death
moan, she cries for help, bringing Iago,
Lodovico and Cassio. When Emilia tells of
Iago's treachery, he stabs his wife and rushes
from the room.