Tchaikovsky Research

Tchaikovsky considered William Shakespeare's drama Othello (Отелло) as a possible subject for an opera (TH 213 ; ČW 454) during the winter of 1876/77.

The suggestion came in November or December 1876 from Vladimir Stasov, who offered to prepare a detailed libretto. On 11/23 December 1876, Tchaikovsky replied with enthusiasm: "I not only ask, but demand that you fulfil your promise. Now the seed of Shakespeare's tragedy has taken root in ground of my musical imagination, how could I not write Othello?" [1].

Stasov immediately drafted a scenario for the opera, to which Tchaikovsky suggested a number of changes [2]. Due to other commitments, Stasov was unable to start work on the libretto right away. On 9/21 February 1877, Tchaikovsky wrote to him: "It is essential for me to receive the scenario you have compiled for the 2nd, 3rd and 4th acts. Only in the first act can I manage without your gracious assistance. The sooner I receive these three acts, the better. But this does not mean that I would wish you to abandon all your work and turn your attention to Othello. Do it whenever you please and how you please, but without receiving your scenario for the last three acts I cannot manage, and so I await them patiently, but eagerly" [3].

Within two months, Stasov had suggested a completely different opera subject—The Cardinal (after a story by Alfred de Vigny), which the composer rejected outright [4], and nothing more was heard of Othello [5].

Notes and References

  1. Letter 520 to Vladimir Stasov, 11/23 December 1876.
  2. See letter from Vladimir Stasov to Tchaikovsky, 13/25 December 1876, and the composer's reply in Letter 525, 19/31 December 1876. A complete English translation of Stasov's scenario is included in ČW, p. 814.
  3. Letter 541 to Vladimir Stasov, 9/21 February 1877.
  4. Letter 548 to Vladimir Stasov, 8/20 April 1877.
  5. See The Tchaikovsky Handbook. A guide to the man and his music, vol. 1 (2002), p. 400.