Alan Curtis thinks that opera has something for everyone, and Verdi’s Otello, a brilliant adaptation of William Shakespeare’s masterful play Othello, is the perfect stepping stone into a life of loving opera!

There are some who say opera is “not their thing.” But perhaps you like classical music, which opera has, and perhaps you like singing, which opera has. Maybe you also like theatre? Well, opera has that too. If you also like Shakespeare, then Verdi’s Otello has all four elements in spades.

The Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra is presenting Otello, in association with New Zealand Opera and The Trusts Foundation, just in time to celebrate the 400th birthday of the globe’s most emphatic playwright, William Shakespeare.


In Shakespeare’s play, Otello, the commander of the Venetian forces in Cyprus is married to the beautiful Desdemona. However, his ensign Iago poisons Otello’s mind against his wife. From there, the tragedy unfolds as Otello disintegrates into a pit of anger and sorrow resulting ultimately in tragedy.

Iago is undoubtedly the villain in the play. Shakespeare tells us that Iago is jealous of Otello because Otello has promoted Cassio over him. However, there are some who claim that there is a homoerotic subtext and that Iago has deep feelings for Otello which are denied and turn into a deep hatred with his efforts to derail Otello’s relationship with his wife. This, however, is a matter of interpretation as to whether you read the character of Iago as being gay.

The APO performance is not the full opera, as it is designed to bring out the music and the singing rather than the drama; having said that, the four key characters are presented in their full glory from Verdi’s masterful score – a score that he took some persuading to write. Verdi had retired after the success of his Aida and although a keen fan of Shakespeare, he did not plan to write another opera. He was ultimately persuaded and although it took some five years to produce, its first performance at La Scala in 1887 was an outstanding success said to have drawn 20 curtain calls.

The cast, conducted by APO Music Director Giordano Bellincampi includes: Otello – New Zealand’s tenor Simon O’Neill; Desdemona – Italian soprano Maria Luigia Borsi; Iago – American baritone Scott Hendricks; Cassio – James Egglestone; Emilia – Sarah Castle; Chorus – The Freemasons New Zealand Opera Chorus.

Celebrate the 400th birthday of William Shakespeare through Verdi’s masterful opera, Otello, on Friday 29 July at the Auckland Town Hall, 7.30pm. For more information and to book tickets, visit


Article: Alan Curtis
Image: Branco Gaica