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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
A companion piece to te Wagner one, though I doubt it'll get as many contributions.

Still Verdi and his librettists did create some very interesting characters, particularly in his middle to late period operas.

I'd nominate Rigoletto, Violetta, Simon Boccanegra, Fiesco, virtually everyone in Don Carlo, Otello and Iago for starters.
 

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Generally opera teaches us that women turn out to be wiser and more generous than men. Verdi's operas do it particularly. They are full of silly tenors and smart sopranos and mezzos.
This is a kind of a list, but not a rating.
1. Amneris.
2. Renato in Ballo. There is too much inside him than the score and the voice can explain.
3. Felipe II, princess Eboli, Isabel de Valois. The opera is no less interesting than their real relationship.
4. Violetta and Germont Sr. I can't stand productions, where he tries to press on her in the second act. It shows full incomprehension by a director and, I'm afraid, by singers.
5. Simon Boccanegra and Jacopo Fiesco.
6. Rigoletto.
7. Wives of Windsor in Falstaff.
8. The Macbeths.
9. Abigail.
10. Montforte in I Vespri.
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
I think Don Carlo himself is at least as iteresting as Felipe, Eboli and Elisabetta, which admittedly is an unusual relationship. (You can imagine Elisabetta saying, "You see there were three of us in this relationship.")

But back to Carlo himself, a young man neglected by his father, who nonetheless craves his father's approval, which appears to be reserved for his best friend Posa. Does Carlo also suffer from epilepsy or something similar? There is evidence to suggest this when he has some kind of fit whilst pouring out his heart to Elisabetta in the Garden Scene. Also is his admiration for his friend slightly more than that? Does he harbour secret homosexual feelings for Posa? Carlo is no hero but he is I think one of Verdi's most interesting tenor roles.
 

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Rigoletto will always be at the top, with a few others, of any list of my beloved and interesting, operatic characters. Amneris’ inability to refrain from destroying the one she loves if she can’t have him and her haunted reflections… I myself have put him in their power, I myself… I myself… Is to me an all time great operatic depiction of human failing at its most compelling.I love Boccanegra but if the word is interesting I don’t put him quite in the top category. Having read your observations before writing mine… Which I only do with the original post...I very much like the inclusion of Fiesco, who I would not have thought of but who is filled with surprises and yes I like him in that category! Don Carlo in Forza became three dimensional and fascinating for me once I heard Muti give a description of him in an article. He spoke of how charming and filled with life and truly , the life of the party he is, and How people are drawn to him and yet when the question Of family honor comes into play he’s absolutely convulsed and twisted into something so different. Final inclusion for now (can’t help but think that some character will come screaming at me later “you didn’t include BORSA??!!!”) I can’t say that I find Ernani as interesting as all of these characters but I can say I have spent time mulling over how he could not have come up with a better deal with Silva than the one he did!😆
 

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Didn’t take long… Don Carlo (tenor) is an excellent inclusion. I can really be in the “Domingo is so often generic“ club but in the Met video, to me he looks and seems like that teetering on the edge type of guy that makes sense for all the things that you described!
 

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Iago is a nihilist. His destruction of Otello, nominally motivated by revenge for not being given the position he thinks he deserves, is a game from which he gains nothing but, presumably, a momentary sense of power and validation. I'm inclined to think that his dramatic "credo," in which he declares loudly his lack of belief in anything positive, is a little melodramatic and a concession to operatic convention, musically superb though it is, but with or without it he exudes the dark, unsettling power of a psyche uninhibited by conscience. Though Shakespeare provides the dramatic material here, the power of opera relies on music much more than on words, and it's Verdi's powers as a composer that make Iago one of opera's greatest villains.
 

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Iago is a nihilist. His destruction of Otello, nominally motivated by revenge for not being given the position he thinks he deserves, is a game from which he gains nothing but, presumably, a momentary sense of power and validation. I'm inclined to think that his dramatic "credo," in which he declares loudly his lack of belief in anything positive, is a little melodramatic and a concession to operatic convention, musically superb though it is, but with or without it he exudes the dark, unsettling power of a psyche uninhibited by conscience. Though Shakespeare provides the dramatic material here, the power of opera relies on music much more than on words, and it's Verdi's powers as a composer that make Iago one of opera's greatest villains.
Completely agree. Iago in the Shakespeare play is the villain but is provided with some qualities that round off his rough edges. In the Verdi opera, Iago is presented unambiguously as a manipulative, evil psychopath. Boito does a remarkable job of presenting the psychopath (malignant narcissist) in a manner that is very true to modern understandings - a remarkable achievement in the late 19th century. He must have had the misfortune of knowing one.

Phillip II in Don Carlos is the most intriguing character for me - a man nearly crushed by the weight of his heavy burden and conflicted conscience.

Falstaff gets a vote for his impenetrable self-delusion and joie de vivre.

Others in consideration: Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, Rigoletto.
 

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Liszt, Bruckner, Chopin, Scriabin, Wallace, Bortkiewicz.
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Luisa (Miller) & Odabella (Attila) I like at most. Verdi gave these characters really beautiful arias to sing.
 

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So I’m going to chime in here on Iago. And I’m making a bit of a prelude rather than launching in because I don’t want it to sound like I’m saying someone’s opinion and preference is wrong. That would of course be nonsense.But I am going to share my different take because sometimes that can be fun. Dick Johnson and Woodduck share marvelous, insightful observations about the character of Iago.“he exudes the dark, unsettling power of a psyche uninhibited by conscience.“ and “Boito does a remarkable job of presenting the psychopath (malignant narcissist) in a manner that is very true to modern understandings“....both fascinating and NOT anything I had ever heard, and certainly not thought, before. BUT I have never found Iago as fascinating as many on here clearly do and I know the reason....Otello! Some may disagree but few will find it a unique take when I say that Otello is simply far too gullible to be the foil that would make Iago’s machinations top shelf. It’s on Otello’s faint ability to discern that I hang the entire dramatic failure of the piece. For me, rather than Verdi’s masterpiece I find the opera to be what many Verdi operas are...episodically brilliant. And Iago is, vrtually unchallenged. “Man but a rush against Othellos’s breast and he....”.....is it melts? The one thing the guy got right!!! Ali had Frazier....Scarpia had Tosca.........Magic and Bird had each other....there has to be a worthy opponent. Otello has some of the most glorious music Verdi ever wrote but as to fulfilling his responsibility in the drama, I think he let poor Iago.....poor conscience-less, psychopath that he is....he let the poor guy down!
 

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I have never found Iago as fascinating as many on here clearly do and I know the reason....Otello! Some may disagree but few will find it a unique take when I say that Otello is simply far too gullible to be the foil that would make Iago’s machinations top shelf. It’s on Otello’s faint ability to discern that I hang the entire dramatic failure of the piece. For me, rather than Verdi’s masterpiece I find the opera to be what many Verdi operas are...episodically brilliant. And Iago is, vrtually unchallenged. “Man but a rush against Othellos’s breast and he....”.....is it melts? The one thing the guy got right!!! Ali had Frazier....Scarpia had Tosca.........Magic and Bird had each other....there has to be a worthy opponent. Otello has some of the most glorious music Verdi ever wrote but as to fulfilling his responsibility in the drama, I think he let poor Iago.....poor conscience-less, psychopath that he is....he let the poor guy down!
I "like" - and like - your thoughtful post, but I'm going to argue with it. I wonder how Tosca constitutes a "worthy opponent" for Scarpia, since she has to resort to murdering him - an act of utter desperation - in order to obtain even a brief respite from his malignancy. In the end, his destructiveness proves invincible.

Life isn't a boxing match or a basketball game. Competitive sports assume that parity - fairness - is a fundamental value. But evil doesn't want a fair fight; it isn't in its nature to look for worthy opponents. Evil is exploitative and parasitic; it preys upon the weak to give it the illusion of strength. Evil is fundamentally impotent; it needs the cooperation of the gullible as it maneuvers for power over them. It destroys lives because that's all it can do; it doesn't know how to live or to create life. In Its heart is a profound cowardice, and the manipulation and destruction of others is the only available substitute - other than self-destruction - for making an authentic life, which requires authentic courage.

Loathsome and dispiriting as the spectacle may be, it's precisely evil's ease and precision in locating and exploiting human weakness that constitutes its standard of achievement and its true essence.
 

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So I’m going to chime in here on Iago. And I’m making a bit of a prelude rather than launching in because I don’t want it to sound like I’m saying someone’s opinion and preference is wrong. That would of course be nonsense.But I am going to share my different take because sometimes that can be fun. Dick Johnson and Woodduck share marvelous, insightful observations about the character of Iago.“he exudes the dark, unsettling power of a psyche uninhibited by conscience.“ and “Boito does a remarkable job of presenting the psychopath (malignant narcissist) in a manner that is very true to modern understandings“....both fascinating and NOT anything I had ever heard, and certainly not thought, before. BUT I have never found Iago as fascinating as many on here clearly do and I know the reason....Otello! Some may disagree but few will find it a unique take when I say that Otello is simply far too gullible to be the foil that would make Iago’s machinations top shelf. It’s on Otello’s faint ability to discern that I hang the entire dramatic failure of the piece. For me, rather than Verdi’s masterpiece I find the opera to be what many Verdi operas are...episodically brilliant. And Iago is, vrtually unchallenged. “Man but a rush against Othellos’s breast and he....”.....is it melts? The one thing the guy got right!!! Ali had Frazier....Scarpia had Tosca.........Magic and Bird had each other....there has to be a worthy opponent. Otello has some of the most glorious music Verdi ever wrote but as to fulfilling his responsibility in the drama, I think he let poor Iago.....poor conscience-less, psychopath that he is....he let the poor guy down!
As far as Iago to Otello is concerned, I agree -- easy pickin's. But that's only the fault of Boito for writing it that way and still doesn't, in any way, take away from Woodduck's assumption about Iago that he "exudes the dark, unsettling power of a psyche uninhibited by conscience." That is still there -- by his very own words -- it's just not projected enough in his acts toward Otello.
 

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Had my whole response written and the phone went dead and lost it...aghh! I’d read Woodducks words again and again if they didn’t describe such a bleak and dispiriting part of life. But that fact makes them no less true and without any question that force that you describe is part of what makes Iago potent and helps the opera Otello hold the stage. I do feel that you describe something that is more philosophical than dramatic... Existentially more important but dramatically …???. To shift the dramatic importance back over to Otello, I still find that he lacks the elements that help us with our all important “willing suspension of disbelief”! Tosca has no such problem!!! She loses of course, but while she’s here she is every inch a Worthy adversary. The suspension of disbelief is something that I believe happens primarily subconsciously but is, of course, absolutely essential to the existence of drama, Otherwise these plays would be dramatically worthless after the first experience. For the likes of me, Verdi is the magician who keeps my eye/ear on his drama so I don’t notice what’s lacking in the basic story that Shakespeare set up.And I don’t want to sound dismissive of this opera, far from it, I have found parts of it to be staggering in performance. Just wish the big guy was a little more perceptive.
 

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Renato in Un Ballo is the first one that comes to mind. His loyalty to the king/governor, the betrayal, the great scene with the conspirators when he realizes it's his wife hiding under that veil, and the remorse he must feel in the final moments. It's a hefty dramatic load.
Auzucena, too, has such a weighty lot of burdens. This is why it's always essential that she not just come off as one-dimensional figure.
 

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As far as Iago to Otello is concerned, I agree -- easy pickin's. But that's only the fault of Boito for writing it that way and still doesn't, in any way, take away from Woodduck's assumption about Iago that he "exudes the dark, unsettling power of a psyche uninhibited by conscience." That is still there -- by his very own words -- it's just not projected enough in his acts toward Otello.
Or actually, come to think of it, it was projected enough -- it's just that Otello was an easy mark. Why they didn't give him more spunk I cannot answer. Still one of the top greatest operas of all time.
 

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Shakespeare and racism is not something I have a well thought out point of view on. But a friend who loves Shakespeare, and has thought about Shakespeare and antisemitism, believes Merchant of Venice to be deeply antisemitic and of course he's not alone. I've wondered about the character Otello and racism but not formed a conclusion I would put down here. If anyone had an opinion and set off another thread about it, I'd be a willing reader.
 

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Discussion Starter · #20 ·
I'm not so sure that it is so unbelievable that Iago manages to dupe Otello. Otello is a warrior, a man who does his duty and probably cannot even conceive of duplicitousness or villainy in those he chooses to trust. "Onesto Iago," he calls Iago near the beginning of the opera and this simple statement no doubt informs his attitude to him from the start. I don't think it's that unusual. I was basically brought up to be kind and considerate to others and to believe in the basic decency of people. I may be an old cynic now, but it wasn't always so and I know I've been guilty of misplacing trust in the past. An arch manipulator, like Iago, probably wouldn't have that much trouble making Otello believe him. Otello might be a easy target, but it stems from his own basic goodness and honesty.
 
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