The Stories in the 'Trilogy'
Otello, Act Four: By the time this final act begins, Iago's deadly plot has achieved its aim. The plan was to make Otello believe that his wife, Desdemona, had been unfaithful. Iago conspired with the maid Emilia to steal one of Desdemona's handkerchiefs and plant it in the rooms of Cassio. Otello saw the handkerchief in Cassio's hands and flew into a rage, vowing to kill Desdemona.
Act Four takes place in Desdemona's room, where Emilia is helping her dress for bed. Desdemona recalls an old story about her mother's maid, and sings the haunting aria called the "Willow Song." She bids Emilia goodnight and kneels before a statue of the Madonna to pray. She then climbs into bed and goes to sleep.
A mysterious, double bass solo accompanies Otello's entrance. Otello lays down his sword, and approaches Desdemona. He kisses her, and she wakes up. Otello accuses her of infidelity. As Desdemona protests her innocence, Otello strangles her.
Emilia returns. Seeing that Desdemona is dying, she asks, "Who did this to you?" "No one," says Desdemona, "but myself." Otello is still in the room, and Emilia doesn't believe what Desdemona has told her. Emilia sounds the alarm. Lodovico, Cassio and Iago run in with a group of armed men. Emilia reveals the evil conspiracy planned by Iago. Otello realizes what he's done. He takes his sword, sings one final, tragic aria ("Niun mi tema"), and stabs himself. He plants a last kiss on Desdemona's lips, and dies.
Fedora, Act Two:
Princess Fedora is a widow who is related to the Russian imperial family. Her late husband was a carouser and womanizer. She finds another love, agrees to marry him, and hopes things will turn out better the second time around. But when her fiance is killed, Fedora swears to find the murderer and bring him to justice.
That's where the story is when Act Two begins. Fedora is throwing a party at her Paris home. She has tracked down the family that was behind her lover's killing, and the suspected murderer himself — a man named Loris — is one of her party guests. But something unexpected happens — she and Loris are irresistibly drawn to each other. Loris sings the aria "Amor ti vieta," a tenor showpiece that provides an important musical motif for the opera.
Fedora gets Loris to confess that he fled Russia when he was accused of her fiance's murder. When the party ends, he promises Fedora he will explain all. Gretch, the police chief, has been spying on them with Fedora's help, hoping to trap Loris. In the course of the act, Loris tells Fedora the truth. He killed her fiance because he was caught carrying on with Loris's own wife! The fiance, it seems, was only interested in Fedora for her money. The act ends as Fedora admits her love to Loris, and invites him to stay the night.
So, the second act concludes blissfully. But, by the end of the opera, things aren't so rosy. Fedora's contact with Gretch has led to the arrest and death of Loris's brother, and his mother has died of grief. When Loris learns of this he denounces Fedora, who poisons herself out of guilt and dies in Loris's arms.
The Merry Widow, Act Three: The story takes place in Paris and involves the fortunes of a widow named Hanna. Her late husband was the wealthiest man in Pontevedro — a fictitious country that's a thinly disguised version of Montenegro. Hanna is immensely wealthy and has plenty of suitors, including some foreigners who would take her, and her money, away from Pontevedro.
In Act Three, Hanna is throwing a party — and in the Washington National Opera's "Trilogy," the party features some special entertainment. For example, there's a duet from Mozart's Così fan tutte, sung by Barbara Frittoli and Sylvie Valayre, who star as Desdemona and Fedora in the first two parts of the Trilogy. The character Valencienne comes up with a number by George and Ira Gershwin, adding to the party atmosphere.
Hanna's garden is decked out as a replica of her favorite Parisian cafe, Maxim's, complete with can-can girls. One of Hanna's suitors, the handsome Pontevedran called Danilo, sings a ballad. He's worried that she's planning to marry a guy named Camille. But when Hanna puts his mind at ease, he tells her how much he loves her, and the two dance a celebratory waltz. Hanna and Danilo agree to marry, keeping Hanna's money at home in Pontevedro, and the whole thing ends with everyone happily singing "Girls, girls, girls!"
Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.