Virtually all the great tenors have played the lead in “Otello,” Verdi’s operatic version of Shakespeare’s play, including Placido Domingo, shown here in a photo taken from an album cover.
Virtually all the great tenors have played the lead in “Otello,” Verdi’s operatic version of Shakespeare’s play, including Placido Domingo, shown here in a photo taken from an album cover.

With “Othello,” James Reel will give his third of four lectures on Shakespeare, the eternal muse, at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday (Oct. 16) in the Great Room of the Arizona Senior Academy.

Reel, the classical music director of Arizona Public Media, will show how the powerful plots and larger-than-life characters Shakespeare created are a gift that keeps on giving to the worlds of theater, film and music – especially opera.

Many  composers adapted Shakespeare to the operatic stage, none more movingly than Giuseppe Verdi with his incomparable “Otello.”

Set against the backdrop of the trade and culture wars between Venice and the Ottoman Empire in the 16th Century, “Othello” tells a riveting tale of inter-racial love, jealousy and treachery.

Its complex hero, a Moorish general betrayed by his villainous aide, Iago, is a thespian’s dream.  Notable actors from Edmund Kean to John Gielgud and Laurence Olivier have performed the role, sometimes in blackface or a mask.  Paul Robeson first played Othello in London in 1931, but in 1943 he made American theatrical history as the first black Othello with an otherwise all-white cast.

It’s a leap from that production to such modern adaptations as “Othello—The Remix,” a hip-hop version performed in Chicago last summer for inmates of the Cook County jail.  Or to the 2001 movie “O,” in which the title character is a high-school basketball star.

The women in “Othello” are the focus of Paula Vogel’s “Desdemona—A Play About a Handkerchief.”  In “Good Night Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet),” Ann-Marie MacDonald’s inventive mash-up of “Othello” and “Romeo and Juliet,” an English professor, convinced that the two tragedies were originally comedies, finds herself transported into the plots of both.

On October 23, in his last lecture in the Shakespeare series, Reel will turn to a comedy, “The Taming of the Shrew.”

James Reel
James Reel

The Shakespeare series was made possible by a generous gift from an anonymous  Arizona Senior Academy member.

Submitted by Caroline Bates, Academy Village Volunteer

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Shakespeare Lecture Series Traces Othello‘s Influence: Oct. 2013
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