Otello (1986 film)

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Theatrical release poster
Directed by Franco Zeffirelli
Produced by
Screenplay byadaptation:
  • Franco Zeffirelli
  • Masolino D'Amico
Based on
Music by Giuseppe Verdi (from Otello)
Cinematography Ennio Guarnieri
Edited by Peter Taylor
Distributed by Cannon Films
Release date
  • 28 August 1986 (1986-08-28)
Running time
122 minutes
  • Italy
  • Netherlands

Otello is a 1986 film based on the Giuseppe Verdi opera of the same name, which was itself based on the Shakespearean play Othello . The film was directed by Franco Zeffirelli and starred Plácido Domingo in the title role, Katia Ricciarelli as Desdemona and Justino Díaz as Iago. For the movie's soundtrack, Lorin Maazel conducted the Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro alla Scala. The film premiered in West Germany on 28 August 1986 and received a U.S. theatrical release on 12 September 1986. It was nominated for a Bafta Award and a Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film.

Giuseppe Verdi 19th-century Italian opera composer

Giuseppe Fortunino Francesco Verdi was an Italian opera composer. He was born near Busseto to a provincial family of moderate means, and developed a musical education with the help of a local patron. Verdi came to dominate the Italian opera scene after the era of Vincenzo Bellini, Gaetano Donizetti, and Gioachino Rossini, whose works significantly influenced him. By his 30s, he had become one of the pre-eminent opera composers in history.

Opera artform combining sung text and musical score in a theatrical setting

Opera is a form of theatre in which music has a leading role and the parts are taken by singers, but is distinct from musical theater. Such a "work" is typically a collaboration between a composer and a librettist and incorporates a number of the performing arts, such as acting, scenery, costume, and sometimes dance or ballet. The performance is typically given in an opera house, accompanied by an orchestra or smaller musical ensemble, which since the early 19th century has been led by a conductor.

<i>Otello</i> opera in four acts by Giuseppe Verdi

Otello is an opera in four acts by Giuseppe Verdi to an Italian libretto by Arrigo Boito, based on Shakespeare's play Othello. It was Verdi's penultimate opera, and was first performed at the Teatro alla Scala, Milan, on 5 February 1887.



With only a few exceptions, the film follows the same plot as the opera. Iago plots and brings about Otello's downfall by convincing him that his wife Desdemona is engaged in an affair with the young lieutenant Cassio, provoking Otello to murder her in a blind rage. However, in a major change from the opera, Otello kills Iago at the end by throwing a spear at him, while in the stage version he only wounds him with his sword.

Michael Cassio character in Othello

Michael Cassio, or simply Cassio, is a fictional character in William Shakespeare's Othello. The source of the character is the 1565 tale "Un Capitano Moro" by Cinthio; Cassio is unnamed in Cinthio but referred to as "the squadron leader". In the play, Cassio is a young and handsome lieutenant under Othello's command who becomes one of Iago's several victims in a plot to ruin Othello.


Plácido Domingo Spanish tenor and conductor

José Plácido Domingo Embil is a Spanish opera singer, conductor, and arts administrator. He has recorded over a hundred complete operas and is well known for his versatility, regularly performing in Italian, French, German, Spanish, English and Russian in the most prestigious opera houses in the world. Although primarily a lirico-spinto tenor for most of his career, especially popular for his Cavaradossi, Hoffmann, Don José, and Canio, he quickly moved into more dramatic roles, becoming the most acclaimed Otello of his generation. In the early 2010s, he transitioned from the tenor repertory into almost exclusively baritone parts, most notably Simon Boccanegra. He has performed 149 different roles.

Katia Ricciarelli singer

Katia Ricciarelli is an Italian soprano.

Justino Díaz is a Puerto Rican operatic bass-baritone. In 1963, Díaz won an annual contest held at the Metropolitan Opera of New York, becoming the first Puerto Rican to obtain such an honor and as a consequence, made his Metropolitan debut on October 1963 in Verdi's Rigoletto as Monterone.


Menachem Golan and Yoram Globus of Cannon Films worked out a deal with popular operatic tenor Plácido Domingo to finance him in a film version of an opera. They wanted the singer to appear in an adaptation of Verdi's Il trovatore . Domingo, however, suggested instead that they film Otello, his signature role. While working with Italian director Franco Zeffirelli on a stage production of Tosca at the Metropolitan Opera, Domingo discussed the possibility of collaborating again on another opera movie. They had previously made television versions of Cavalleria rusticana and Pagliacci together, as well as a theatrically released movie of Verdi's La Traviata . Zeffirelli agreed to direct Domingo in Otello. [1]

Yoram Globus Israeli film producer

Yoram Globus is an American-Israeli film producer, cinema owner, and distributor. He is most known for his association with The Cannon Group, Inc., an American film production company, which he co-owned with his cousin Menahem Golan.

Tenor is a male voice type in classical music whose vocal range lies between the countertenor and baritone. The tenor's vocal range extends up to C5. The low extreme for tenors is roughly A2 (two As below middle C). At the highest extreme, some tenors can sing up to the second F above middle C (F5). The tenor voice type is generally divided into the leggero tenor, lyric tenor, spinto tenor, dramatic tenor, heldentenor, and tenor buffo or spieltenor.

<i>Il trovatore</i> opera by Giuseppe Verdi

Il trovatore is an opera in four acts by Giuseppe Verdi to an Italian libretto largely written by Salvadore Cammarano, based on the play El trovador (1836) by Antonio García Gutiérrez. It was Gutiérrez's most successful play, one which Verdi scholar Julian Budden describes as "a high flown, sprawling melodrama flamboyantly defiant of the Aristotelian unities, packed with all manner of fantastic and bizarre incident."

Shooting was scheduled to begin in 1985 at Heraklion, Crete. Soon before the filming was to start, Mexico City was devastated by a massive earthquake. Domingo cancelled all his engagements in order to help with rescue efforts. Once the project came close to being scrapped, Domingo agreed to appear in Crete for the filming. Zeffirelli later recalled that the tenor used his hard work on Otello to help forget the traumatic sights in Mexico of the injured and dead (which included some of his family members). [1]

Heraklion Place in Greece

Heraklion or Heraclion is the largest city and the administrative capital of the island of Crete and capital of Heraklion regional unit. It is the fourth largest city in Greece. According to the results of the 2011 census, the municipality's population was 173,993 and according to the results of 2011 census, the metropolitan area has a population of 225,574 and it extends over an area of 684.3 km2 (264.2 sq mi).

Crete The largest and most populous of the Greek islands

Crete is the largest and most populous of the Greek islands, the 88th largest island in the world and the fifth largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, after Sicily, Sardinia, Cyprus, and Corsica. Crete and a number of surrounding islands and islets constitute the region of Crete, one of the 13 top-level administrative units of Greece. The capital and the largest city is Heraklion. As of 2011, the region had a population of 623,065.


For the most part, the film follows the original score of the opera with several noticeable exceptions. The entire "Willow Song" ("Salce, salce"), Desdemona's solo aria, which is largely considered one of the most beautiful moments in the work, is omitted. However, her "Ave Maria", which follows immediately, is retained in the film. There are, at various points, smaller additional cuts in the music, such as the moment at the end of the storm scene when the chorus is cut short and the film skips to the recitativo between Iago and Roderigo. This contrasts with stage productions of Otello, where the opera is rarely cut. There are also two additions: the extra music from the rarely performed third act ballet (written for the opera's Paris premiere) is inserted into the festivities of the first and third acts in the film.

Paris Capital of France

Paris is the capital and most populous city of France, with an area of 105 square kilometres and an official estimated population of 2,140,526 residents as of 1 January 2019. Since the 17th century, Paris has been one of Europe's major centres of finance, diplomacy, commerce, fashion, science, and the arts.

In some scenes, Zeffirelli was able to use the medium of film to show aspects of his interpretation that could not be done onstage. In the movie, when Iago is informing Otello about Cassio's supposed dream in which he apparently said to Desdemona, "Let us hide our loves", we see Cassio singing the words, not Iago, as in the original stage version. Here Zeffirelli is showing the audience the image of Iago's fabricated dream as Otello is imagining it. Another of Zeffirelli's interpretive decisions was to show, complete with screams and sound effects, a flashback of marauding soldiers attacking an African village and snatching Otello (as a baby) from his mother, while the adult Otello and Desdemona sing their Act I love duet.

On the soundtrack album of the opera, released by EMI, the music is presented with no cuts or additions, as it is when Otello is performed on the stage. The soundtrack album, however, has not proved to be as popular as Plácido Domingo's first recording of the opera, conducted by James Levine and released in 1978 by RCA Victor.


Otello was named Best Foreign Film of 1986 by the U.S. National Board of Review of Motion Pictures. [2] It was nominated for a Bafta Award for the Best Foreign Language Film in 1987, but the award was won by Akira Kurosawa's Ran . In the same category, it was also nominated for a Golden Globe. The film was also entered into the 1986 Cannes Film Festival. [3]

Leonard Maltin, in his Movie and Video Guide, called the film "nearly flawless". Vincent Canby in the New York Times , however, criticized Zeffirelli for some of his alterations to the opera's music. [4] In an interview in Opera News , the film's star, Plácido Domingo, expressed similar displeasure in the movie's musical cuts. He also complained that the synchronization of the soundtrack with the film was improperly done, rendering the music half a step lower than it was recorded. In regard to his interpretation of Otello, he felt that some camera cutaways undermined what he was trying to express in his characterization. Overall, he deemed it a "good film" that "could have been better". [5]

See also

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  1. 1 2 Fawkes, Richard (2000). Opera on Film. London: Duckworth. pp. 188–9. ISBN   0-7156-2943-3.
  2. "1986 Award Winners". National Board of Review of Motion Pictures. 2016. Retrieved 31 October 2016.
  3. "Festival de Cannes: Otello". festival-cannes.com. Retrieved 2009-07-11.
  4. Canby, Vincent (12 September 1986). "Film: Placido Domingo in Zeffirelli's 'Otello'". New York Times. Retrieved 10 January 2019.
  5. Scovell, Jane (September 1987). "Domingo: Giving his Best". Opera News.