He’s back. The Lion of Venice, that is. Verdi’s Otello.

The Orchestra first performed the opera very early in our first season at the Auditorium Theatre on November 23, 1891, with Louis Saar conducting. The cast included some of the leading singers of the day:

Jean de Reszke

Otello Jean de Reszke, tenor
Desdemona Emma Albani, soprano
Iago Eduardo Camera, baritone
Emilia Sofia Scalchi, contralto
Cassio Victor Capoul, tenor
Roderigo Antonio Rinaldini, tenor
Montano Lodovico Viviani, bass
Lodovico Enrico Serbolini, bass
Valisi Mandolin Orchestra
AbbeyGrau Chorus [most likely members from the Metropolitan Opera Chorus]

After the third subscription week and less than a month after the inaugural concerts on October 16 and 17, 1891, the Chicago Orchestra was in the pit for performances of the touring Metropolitan Opera Company (under the auspices of the Abbey-Grau Company) from November 9 until December 12. The regular subscription concert season resumed on December 18 and 19.

There had been four previous performances of Otello (all with tenor Francesco Tamagno, who had created the title role at La Scala on February 5, 1887) in Chicago, given under the auspices of Henry Abbey’s Grand Italian Opera Company on January 2 and 3 and March 12 and 14, 1890 (Abbey was not the official impresario at the Metropolitan that season). The Grand Italian Opera Company also gave three performances (also with Tamagno) at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York on March 24, 29, and April 4, 1890, while the resident Germany company was on tour. So technically, the November 23, 1891, performance of Verdi’s Otello in Chicago was the first performance of the opera by the Metropolitan Opera Company.

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With the CSO, the opera was next heard in its entirety at the Ravinia Festival on July 9 and 11, 1970, with István Kertész conducting, with the following cast:

James McCracken

Otello James McCracken, tenor
Desdemona Pilar Lorengar, soprano
Iago Camillo Meghor, baritone
Emilia Nancy Williams, mezzo-soprano
Cassio John Walker, tenor
Roderigo Vahan Khanzadian, tenor
Montano Bernard Izzo, baritone
Lodovico Ara Berberian, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus; Margaret Hillis, director

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Sir Georg Solti, celebrating the end of the Orchestra’s centennial season and his final year as music director, led concerts at Orchestra Hall on April 8 and 12, 1991, and Carnegie Hall  on April 16 and 19. The performances were recorded live for London Records.

Kiri Te Kanawa and Luciano Pavarotti

Otello Luciano Pavarotti, tenor
Desdemona Kiri Te Kanawa, soprano
Iago Leo Nucci, baritone
Emilia Elzbieta Ardam, mezzo-soprano
Cassio Anthony Rolfe Johnson, tenor
Roderigo John Keyes, tenor
Montano Alan Opie, baritone
Lodovico Dimitri Kavrakos, bass
A Herald Richard Cohn, baritone
Chicago Symphony Chorus; Margaret Hillis, director
Terry Edwards, guest chorus master
Chicago Children’s Choir, Leslie Britton, director (Chicago)
Metropolitan Opera Children’s Chorus, Elena Doria, director (New York)

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Most recently, the Orchestra and Chorus performed the opera at Ravinia on July 23, 2005, with James Conlon conducting.

Clifton Forbis

Otello Clifton Forbis, tenor
Desdemona Cristina Gallardo-Domâs, soprano
Iago Frederick Burchinal, baritone
Emilia Milena Kitic, mezzo-soprano
Cassio Matthew Polenzani, tenor
Roderigo Joseph Kaiser, tenor
Montano Quinn Kelsey, baritone
Lodovico John Cheek, bass
A Herald Quinn Kelsey, baritone
Chicago Symphony Chorus; Duain Wolfe, director
Chicago Children’s Choir, Josephine Lee, director

(*Otello’s first exclamation when he makes his entrance at the beginning of the opera.)

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