Rossini’s Othello Interpretation At Oper Frankfurt, A Different Perspective By Damiano Michieletto – OpEd


On Sunday, May 19, 2024, we witnessed an extraordinary and modern staging at the Frankfurt Opera. This new and striking adaptation of the classic play was brought to the stage with a contemporary interpretation fitting today’s conditions.

At the peak of his career, Rossini turned to the subject of Othello, usually associated with Verdi’s composition or Shakespeare’s drama. Rossini followed his own path in the work and made significant changes to the story. His focus shifted from the protagonist’s jealousy to the conflict between Desdemona and her father. Director Damiano Michieletto takes these changes and interprets Rossini’s opera as a drama about xenophobia, delivering a highly impressive production.

Michieletto positions the main character as an Arab, initially desired and then despised in the West, belonging to a newly wealthy Gulf country. Otello is initially accepted into Venice’s upper class and welcomed as long as he contributes to economic development. However, as he becomes closer to familial structures, he is ostracized. Michieletto replaces the jealousy drama with a societal analysis, painting compelling psychological portraits by frequently shifting from stage reality to the characters’ inner worlds.

However, the use of a headscarf, prayer, and prayer mat to indicate Otello’s wealthy Arab identity was found problematic by some viewers. While these elements were intended to highlight the character’s identity and cultural background, they could lead to misinterpretations and cultural sensitivities. It is crucial to emphasize the importance of more sensitive and accurate cultural representation.

In the opera, Otello serves Venice and returns victorious from a war against the Turks. He secretly marries Desdemona, the daughter of his enemy Elmiro Patrizio Veneto, although she is betrothed to the Duke’s son Rodrigo. Jago, secretly Otello’s enemy and spurned by Desdemona, pretends to support Rodrigo’s love to avenge his grievances. He intercepts a letter from Rodrigo and uses it to convince Otello of his wife’s infidelity. This misunderstanding forms the core of the events, culminating in Otello stabbing Desdemona to death and, after discovering Jago’s deceit and his wife’s innocence, Otello’s own demise.

The innovative staging at Frankfurt Opera provided an unforgettable experience for the audience with its fresh interpretation of the classic work. Michieletto’s direction brought Rossini’s opera to life with a modern perspective, blending societal analysis and psychological depth.

In June, Verdi’s Otello will be presented at the Frankfurt Opera in a similarly modern staging. These new productions can be seen as a commentary on Europe’s intellectual creativity regarding the refugee issue.

Oper Frankfurt has asked Sesto Quatrini to take charge of both Otellos in the coming weeks. Rossini’s Otello will be staged on May 17, 19, 26, 31, and June 8, 15. Verdi’s Otello will be performed on June 22, 30, and July 4, 7, 10, 12, 2024.

The official name of the opera and drama theaters in Frankfurt am Main is Opern- und Schauspielhaus Frankfurt. Oper Frankfurt is one of Europe’s leading opera houses, having been named “Opera House of the Year” several times since 2003. The more famous historic Alte Oper building now serves as a concert hall.

– **Composer:** Gioachino Rossini (1792–1868)
– **Libretto:** Francesco Maria Berio, based on William Shakespeare
– **Premiere:** 1816
– **2019 Revival Premiere:** September 8
– **Language:** Italian (with German and English surtitles)
– **Pre-Performance Talks:** Held half an hour before the show in the Holzfoyer and available as audio recordings.

– **Musical Direction:** Sesto Quatrini
– **Director:** Damiano Michieletto
– **Revival Director:** Andrea Bernard
– **Set Design:** Paolo Fantin
– **Costumes:** Carla Teti
– **Lighting:** Alessandro Carletti
– **Chorus:** Tilman Michael

– **Otello:** Theo Lebow
– **Desdemona:** Nino Machaidze
– **Jago:** Francisco Brito
– **Rodrigo:** Levy Sekgapane
– **Elmiro Barberigo:** Erik van Heyningen
– **Emilia:** Kelsey Lauritano
– **Doge:** Michael McCown
– **Lucio / A Gondolier:** Abraham Bretón

**Chorus:** Frankfurt Opera Chorus
**Orchestra:** Frankfurter Opern- und Museumsorchester

Haluk Direskeneli

Haluk Direskeneli, is a graduate of METU Mechanical Engineering department (1973). He worked in public, private enterprises, USA Turkish JV companies (B&W, CSWI, AEP, Entergy), in fabrication, basic and detail design, marketing, sales and project management of thermal power plants. He is currently working as freelance consultant/ energy analyst with thermal power plants basic/ detail design software expertise for private engineering companies, investors, universities and research institutions. He is a member of Chamber of Turkish Mechanical Engineers Energy Working Group.

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