Our conversation about the need for a last-minute recasting of the central role of Iago led music director Riccardo Muti to muse about Verdi’s opera “Otello,” which he will conduct the CSO in performing this weekend. “All personalities in Shakespeare psychologically require a lot of work from an interpreter on the stage, in the orchestra, etc., but Iago is the most complicated,” Muti says.
“Generally, Iago is sung with such a nasty attitude from the beginning of the opera, that I make a comparison to some paintings of the Last Supper where you see Jesus Christ with all of the apostles and you say, ‘Who is Judah [Judas]?’ And everybody says, ‘He,’ and points, because they always paint Judah with a horrible expression [puts his hands forward like claws, bulges his eyes and grits his teeth, which the photographer captures]. That’s not good. For a photographer it’s good, but can you imagine the reaction [if that runs]?
“This is completely wrong because all indications from Verdi are that Iago should be beautiful, that he should walk like a leopard with a very slow and very long walk, like a tiger. Everybody that looks at him should be taken by the beauty of his face and by the honesty of his expression.”
And as Muti has done every time he has performed “Otello,” he will be using the finale of the “Paris” version for Act III. “The finale of Act III in the first version—which is the common version that is always done—brings the opera back to the past. The entire opera is very modern and declamatory, but this finale sounds like the finale of an opera from twenty years before, a big finale with the chorus singing, etc.
“In the second version, Verdi made the finale much shorter and there is a middle part that is changed completely, and it is much more interesting: the orchestration, the use of the chorus, the harmony, the counterpoint, and the part of Iago. I was the first one to do it, and I did it in La Scala both times I did ‘Otello,’ in Salzburg, and in Rome. So, every time I have always used the second finale of the third act.” As far as Muti knows, the only other conductor to have performed this version was Claudio Abbado “one time” and “after me.” (Dennis Polkow)
Riccardo Muti conducts Verdi’s “Otello” April 7, 9 and 12 at 7pm at Orchestra Hall at Symphony Center, 220 South Michigan, (312)294-3000.