However, the opera deviates heavily from Shakespeare's original, not only in that it takes place in Venice and not on Cyprus, but also in that the whole dramatic conflict develops in a different manner. The role of Iago is reduced to some degree, and it is much less diabolical than in the original or in Verdi's Otello of 1887. In further contrast, the role of Rodrigo, of subsidiary importance in Shakespeare and Verdi, is very prominent in Rossini's version and is assigned some of the most difficult and brilliant music. The roles of Otello, Iago, and Rodrigo are all composed for the tenor voice.
Rossini's Otello is an important milestone in the development of opera as musical drama. It provided Giuseppe Verdi with a benchmark for his own adaptations of Shakespeare. A recent Opera Rara CD of the opera includes an alternative happy ending, a common practice with drama and opera at that period of the 19th Century.
The first performance took place at the Teatro del Fondo in Naples on 4 December 1816. It was given its UK premiere on 16 May 1822 at the King's Theatre in London and its American premiere at the Park Theatre in New York on 7 February 1826.
Curiously, though the role of Iago is indicated in the early scores as that of a tenor and was taken up in the early years by tenors Ciccimarra, Luigi Campitelli, Domenico Reina, only three years after the premiere the role had been adapted for the baritone voice and was sung thereafter by baritones, including the most renowned bel canto-era "secondo basso cantante", transitional baritones, and practicing Verdian baritones of the 19th century.
During this period Iago was assigned to the Italian sometimes-second-tenor, sometimes-baritone Giovanola at the Théâtre Italien in Paris on 26 July 1823 with Giuditta Pasta as Desdemona. The Spanish baritone (later pedagogue) Manuel García, Jr. sang the role on his family's trip to the New York in 1826. The Italian baritone Ferdinando Lauretti sang it at Verona in 1827 and a review of this performance was dispatched to London's The Harmonicon, which mentions his "character of Iago, a part for a bass which was greatly improved by Rossini, during his engagement at your Italian opera." Domenico Cosselli sang the role at Turin's Teatro d'Angennes in 1828, as did the Italian primo basso Federico Crespi (1833), Antonio Tamburini (from 1834), Luciano Fornasari (in 1844), Giovanni Belletti (in 1849), Joseph Tagliafico in 1850, Giorgio Ronconi (from 1851), Francesco Graziani (from 1869), and Antonio Cotogni (in 1869). French baritone Paul Barroilhet appeared in 1844 in Paris, where he interpolated the aria "[which?]" (transposed from C to B-flat) from Rossini's La donna del lago. His successor, Jean-Baptiste Faure, sang the role in 1871.
A French printed edition from 1823 already shows Iago's part written in the bass clef.
20th century and beyond
In addition to studio recordings for labels such as Opera Rara, in the 20 years between 1957 and 2008, the recordings database, operadis, reports recordings of 12 different live performances given in a variety of locations. Operabase, the performance database, shows performances Rossini's Otello given (or to be given) going forward from January 2012, with 46 performances of 10 productions in 10 cities.
In October 2012, Opera Southwest in Albuquerque, New Mexico presented three performances of the opera. The first gave both the original and the alternative "happy" ending. Prior to the second performances, the audience voted for the ending they preferred, and the chosen version was then performed.
Also in 2012, the opera was staged in Zurich by the Vlaamse Opera. The same production was given in Ghent and Antwerp in February and March 2014.  Buxton Festival presented the opera in concert form in July 2014.
|Role||Voice type||Premiere Cast, 4 December 1816
(Conductor: - )
|Elmiro (Brabantio)||bass||Michele Benedetti|
|The Doge of Venice||tenor||Gaetano Chizzola|
|A gondolier||tenor||Nicola Mollo|
- Place: Venice
- Time: End of the 18th Century
According to the booklet of the Milanese representations of 1818:
"Otello, African to the service of Adria (Venice), victor returns from a battle against the Turks. A secret wedding ties him to Desdemona, daughter of his enemy, Elmiro Patrizio Veneto, already promised to Rodrigo, son of the Doge. Jago, another frustrated lover of Desdemona and hidden enemy of Otello, in order to be revenged of perceived wrongs, pretends to favor the love-suit of Rodrigo; an intercepted letter of the latter, by means of which Otello is led to believe his wife unfaithful, forms the texture of the action, which ends with the death of Desdemona, pierced by Otello, leading him to go mad, after uncovering the deceit of Jago and the innocence of his wife.”
Opera House and Orchestra
Frederica Von Stade,
|Jesus Lopez Cobos,
Ambrosian Opera Chorus, Philharmonia Orchestra
|Audio CD: Philips
Cat: 432 456-2
Ezio Di Cesare,
Orchestra and Chorus of RAI Torino
(Video recording of a performance in the Rossini Opera Festival, Pesaro, August)
Juan José Lopera,
Philharmonia Orchestra and the Geoffrey Mitchell Choir
|Audio CD: Opera Rara
Cat: ORC 18
Virtuosi Brunensis and the Transilvania Philharmonic Choir
(Recorded at a performance at the Rossini in Wildbad festival)
|Audio CD: Naxos,
Orchestra La Scintilla, Zurich Opera,
(Recording of a performance given by the Zurich Opera, March)
|Blu-ray Disc: Decca,
Cat: 074 3865
- Gossett and Brauner, in Holden, p. 779
- Pinnock, W. (1827). The Harmonicon: A Journal of Music (Vol IV ed.). London: Samuel Leigh. p. 171. Retrieved 10 September 2014.
- Performances on Rossini's Otello on operabase.com Note: this site is updated frequently as new performances are reported. Retrieved 29 July 2014.
- Opera Southwest's Past Performances on operasouthwest.org. Retrieved 2 September 2013.
- Brian Kellow, "Opera Southwest mounts Rossini's seldom-heard Otello - with your choice of endings", Opera News (New York), September 2012, on operasouthwest.com. Retrieved 2 September 2013
- "Rossini's Otello" in the 'Past Production Report' section of London's Donizetti Society website
- Hugill, Robert (21 July 2014). "Rossini's Otello (Review of Buxton Festival Concert Performance)".
- Recordings of Otello on operadis-opera-discography.org.uk
- Gossett, Philip; Brauner, Patricia (2001), "Otello" in Holden, Amanda (ed.), The New Penguin Opera Guide, New York: Penguin Putnam. ISBN 0-14-029312-4
- Osborne, Charles (1994), The Bel Canto Operas of Rossini, Donizetti, and Bellini, Portland, Oregon: Amadeus Press. ISBN 0931340713
- Osborne, Richard, Rossini (1990), Ithaca, New York: Northeastern University Press. ISBN 1-55553-088-5
- Osborne, Richard (1998), Otello, in Stanley Sadie, (Ed.), The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, Vol. Three. pp. 789 – 790. London: MacMillan Publishers, Inc. ISBN 0-333-73432-7 ISBN 1-56159-228-5
- Senici, Emanuele (ed.) (2004), The Cambridge Companion to Rossini, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-80736-4 ISBN 978-0-521-00195-3
- Servadio, Gaia (2003), Rossini, New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers. ISBN 0-7867-1195-7
- Toye, Francis (1997 re-print), Rossini: The Man and His Music, Dover Publications, 1987. ISBN 0486253961 ISBN 0-486-25396-1,
- List of performances of Otello by Rossini on Operabase.
- Rossini, Gioacchino; Francesco Maria Berio (marchese di Salza); William Shakespeare (1826), Othello: a tragic opera in two acts, as performed at the New York Theatre (with contributors: Edward M Murden, Daniel Fanshaw.) New York: E.M. Murden, No. 4 Chambers Street, for the New-York Theatre
- Rossini, Gioacchino; Francesco Maria Berio (marchese di Salza); William Shakespeare (1833), Othello: a tragic opera in two acts as performed by the Garcia Troupe in New York in 1826, and the Italian Company of the Chestnut Street Theatre in 1833 New York: Neal 1833