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Desdemona


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1 (Verdi: Otello). Sop. Wife of Otello. Desdemona is deeply in love with and loyal to her husband, who is jealous and needlessly suspicious of her relationships with other men. Iago, anxious to supplant Cassio as Otello's second-in-command, sets about convincing Otello of Desdemona's affair with Cassio. In her innocence, and at Iago's suggestion, Desdemona intercedes on behalf of the demoted Cassio, further fuelling Otello's suspicions. She forcefully denies her husband's accusations, but he insults her and strikes her. She gives him a handkerchief to wipe his brow, which he throws on the ground. It is retrieved by her maid Emilia, wife of Iago, who takes it from her and uses it as further evidence against Cassio. As Emilia helps her prepare for retirement that night, Desdemona thinks of death. She sings a song she remembers her mother's maid singing (the Willow Song) and prays to the Virgin Mary. As she settles to sleep, Otello enters, leans over her and kisses her, but she senses that he is going to kill her. She pleads her innocence and asks him to be merciful—she wants to live. Otello smothers her with a pillow as Emilia comes back into the room and shouts for help. But Desdemona is dying. Otello learns of Iago's treachery and his wife's innocence, stabs himself, and dies next to her. Arias: Piangea cantando … Salce! Salce! (‘She wept, singing … Willow! Willow!’); Ave Maria (‘Hail, Mary’); duet (with Otello): Mio superbo guerrier!…(‘My proud warrior!’); quartet (with Otello, Emilia, and Iago); Dammi la dolce e lieta parola del perdono (‘Grant me the sweet and happy word of pardon’). Famous interpreters include Emma Albani, Emma Eames, Nellie Melba, Claudia Muzio, Dora Labbette, Frances Alda, Eleanor Steber, Renata Tebaldi, Leonie Rysanek, Sylvia Sass, Gwyneth Jones, Mirella Freni, Margaret Price, Renata Scotto, Katia Ricciarelli, Kiri te Kanawa, and Elena Prokina. Created (1887) by Romilda Pantaleoni (who was the mistress of Franco Faccio, conductor of the world première). Verdi himself chose her to sing the role for the première, but afterwards felt she didn't really understand the way the part should be interpreted. She did not have the great career that her fellow-creators in Otello (Tamagno and Maurel) had.

2 (Rossini: Otello). Sop. Daughter of Elmiro. Loved by Otello but he suspects her of being unfaithful. He creeps into her room while she sleeps and stabs her. Created (1816) by Isabella Colbran (who was married to Rossini 1822–37).

Subjects: Opera.


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