Monday, October 15, 2012
Comparing "Othello" and Verdi's "Otello"
After watching the clip from Oliver Parker’s “Othello” in class, I thought it might be interesting to see how another interpretation could help build on my understanding of the play. Shakespeare’s “Othello” was adapted into an opera called “Otello” by Giuseppe Verdi, and a film version of that opera was made in 1986 by director Franco Zeffirelli. Though Zeffirelli’s “Otello” is generally true to Shakespeare’s play in terms of plot, watching and listening to an opera is a totally different experience then seeing Shakespeare. The plot in the opera and in the original play are almost identical, except that the film begins mis en scene in the second act of the play after the Turks have been defeated, cutting all the material involving Desdemona’s father. It’s important to note that the character Otello, played by Placido Domingo, is played in blackface; which despite being customary in performances of “Otello”, is not quite something I expected of a film made in the late eighties.*
The characters in the film seemed to fluctuate between extreme emotions, singing either for rage, sorrow or intense happiness. For example, Otello tells Desdemona as they lay in their bed on the eve of their wedding: “My joy is so fierce I fear I will suffocate”. This film portrays Otello as a being a very passionate and sensitive man, and though his rank is mentioned, much less attention is paid to affairs of state than in the original play and far more screentime is given to scenes between Otello and Desdemona. This version, I think, makes Othello’s quick turn to jealousy and rage over his wife’s suspected infidelity a bit more conceivable, as even his happiness seems somewhat histrionic.
One of the most notable scenes in the film, is when Iago soliloquizes about his relationship with God. This scene, which takes place early on in the film, seems tied to the scene in Act I of Shakespeare's play where Iago talks about how he justifies his actions ("Heaven is my judge..." I.i.41-65). In the film, Iago is represented as a character who believes his actions to be determined by his nature, as can be seen in the line, "I believe in a cruel god who created me in his image and in my wrath i speak his name"; Iago stands in the middle of a large dome with an oculus directly overhead, and he stares up into the light, as if speaking to God directly. He then moves into another room and stands in front of a crucifix, saying, "I believe as firmly as any widow piously saying her prayers that all the evil i think and do was decreed me by faith”.
*Though, apparently, productions of "Otello" have used blackface as recently as last year. Here's the link: http://racebending.tumblr.com/post/18384552414/blackface-in-opera-the-double-standard