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OTELLO

SCRIPT, DESIGN + DIRECTION: BRETT BAILEY

MUSICAL COMPOSITION: FABRIZIO CASSOL,

ADAPTED FROM VERDI'S OTELLO

CHORAL ARRANGEMENTS: BONGANI MAGATYANA

CONDUCTOR: PREMIL PETROVIC

We are currently seeking presenters and co-producers for this project.

'Everything in this world is eater or eaten.

The seed is food and the fire is eater.'

W.B. Yeats, from The Upanishads

‘I and my companions suffer from a disease of the heart that can be cured only with gold.’ Cortés to the envoys of Moctezuma

“The company destroyed everything. They took my past and my future. The river is poisoned. Future generations are born dead. The people of the forest aren’t protected. ” – Maria do Socorro Silva, Brazilian environmental activist

Brett is once again teaming up with Belgian composer Fabrizio Cassol and Berlin-based Serbian conductor Premil Petrovic, to create a radical take on Verdi’s operatic masterpiece, OTELLO. This follows their critically acclaimed and highly successful adaptation of Verdi’s MACBETH. Joining them is award-winning South African choral arranger Bongani MagatyanaThe intended premiere is in early 2025.

 

AN INTRODUCTION TO THE WORK BY BRETT: 

A world on fire... Verdi’s dark masterpiece of control, deception and jealousy, entangled with the fracturing of our world – political, social, environmental – in the 21st century. An iconoclastic, fast-paced, apocalyptic adaptation, tightly focussed on the dynamics of agony, rage and cruelty that ricochet amongst the 3 main characters.

OTELLO unfolds against a wide backdrop on the frontlines of the climate crisis in the Global South, where threatened communities are pitted against rampant opportunism. 
 
Desdemona – a far cry from Shakespeare's and Verdi’s submissive lover – is a fierce activist battling for the survival of her community. She regards the forest as her body.

 

Iago: a corrupted official and self-styled Übermensch, driven by profit and his will to power, and thrilling in the intricacies of crushing any vestige of the civil society that he despises.

 

Torn between them: Otello, commander of the force taking on the invaders, and the hero of the day. Iago's insidious conspiracy finds fertile ground in the suppressed trauma of betrayal and violence from his youth as a slum gangster, propelling him to the catastrophic climax.

 

The tension in the work lies between two poles: the striving for social and environmental regeneration, embodied in the love between Otello and Desdemona. And the nihilistic destruction of what is precious, by self-interested men who prioritize their gratification. The conventional emphasis on Otello’s racial otherness is not relevant in my interpretation. 

In tackling a classic text like this, I try to find an appropriate contemporary milieu in which the work can take root and grow in different directions, and to allow it to pull to the surface some of the tensions and complexities at work in that arena… to find connection points – through imagination and research – for exploration, confronting audiences with deeper societal, political and psychological dynamics at play. 
 
This OTELLO aims a cold lens at misogyny, domestic violence, and the human and environmental costs of the ruthless exploitation of natural resources in the shadows of the headlines. It probes themes of (a)morality, entropy, resistance, trauma and healing.
 
I have tightly edited the opera, and am rewriting the libretto in a sharp, contemporary vernacular for characters with complex personalities and motivations. The staging will be poetical and visually striking.

 

Influenced by his deep experience of World Music, Fabrizio is completely recomposing the score for an ensemble of 6 South African opera singers and 10 musicians, including electronics. A very slow and painstaking process, considering the vastly reduced company, and the need to create musical bridges where cuts have been made.

 

Premil, the artistic director of the No Borders Orchestra, will conduct.  

 
 

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