Rossini’s telling of the tragic story of Othello, the Moor of Venice, is loosely adapted from William Shakespeare’s Othello. While the opera takes its name from the tragic hero, Rossini’s Otello focuses on the title character’s wife, Desdemona, a role the composer wrote for his then-mistress and later wife, Isabella Colbran. Unlike Verdi’s Desdemona, Rossini’s heroine is a passionate, multi-dimensional character who is caught between her love for Otello and her duty to her father. Thwarting the couple’s attempts at marital bliss is Iago, who, in Rossini’s version, is inspired to destruction not only by his hatred for Otello, but also because of his unrequited love for Desdemona. Jealousy, honor, and love run through the veins of every character and Desdemona is caught in the middle of it all. One of the most surprising scenes in the opera is the duet between Desdemona and Rodrigo, in which the heroine confesses her love for Otello. Rather than reacting with his rage, Rodrigo realizes the depth of Desdemona’s love and magnanimously releases her from their engagement. In doing so, Rodrigo all but delivers her into the hands of her murderer, Otello, who has been poisoned with the lies of Iago. With Otello convinced of Desdemona’s infidelity, Rossini’s opera ends in the tragic death of the one character who remained unstained by jealousy.

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