Photo by Lynn Lane A pretty significant failure to communicate
Giuseppe Verdi certainly knew how to start an opera. A tumultuous dissonant chord blasts forth fortissimo, followed by rushing strings and woodwinds. It's a cacophony of nature, as the curtain rises on an aural storm that can only be called Shakespearean - elemental and terrifying. Wind, rain, and waves batter the island. Arrayed on the Cyprian wharf, the entire chorus prays for victory in the ongoing naval battle against the Turks while this ferocious storm adds unexpected dread. Will their vaunted naval commander and governor succeed? Will the Venetians rule the sea once more? Or will the storm sweep all asunder?
Through the mists, Otello's ship appears. In perhaps the most stirring entrance in opera, the commanding figure of the Moor appears on the foredeck. "Esultate!" he exclaims in triumph. "Rejoice, the Muslim foes are defeated. The glory is ours!"
What a way to begin Otello (1887). As if a prelude to the rawness yet to come, the thunderstorm and jubilation begin the opera on a high that never deflates. With a libretto superbly adapted from Shakespeare's tragedy by Arrigo Boito (an avant-garde writer and composer who had scored a minor theatrical success in 1875 with his revised Mefistofele; wrote Ponchielli's La Gioconda; and would later give Verdi his final masterpiece, Falstaff), Verdi climbed to heights even he might never have anticipated. These two were in perfect sync.