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This report is taken from PN Review 253, Volume 46 Number 5, May - June 2020.

Marks of Desire, Not of Doubt: Desdemona In Action Vahni Capildeo
Writing from Milan in 1880, Boito, Verdi’s librettist for Otello, compares the atmosphere of Shakespeare’s tragedy to a ‘room where two people are about to die of asphyxiation’. Anxious to steer Verdi away from conventional theatricality, Boito overemphasizes his desire to ‘seal’ Desdemona and Othello in this ‘lethal chamber’. William Weaver’s translation of the correspondence is uncomfortable to read during the days of lockdown in which this piece is written. The government of Trinidad and Tobago (where I happen to be), led by a Prime Minister who is qualified volcanologist with training in disaster preparedness, has taken a strong, clear, firm stance on quarantine to flatten the curve of the spread of the coronavirus. Only essential travel is permitted. Food retailers and delivery services have been closed, putting the itinerant poor, and the medically housebound, at a disadvantage. Post is being sorted and held, not distributed, except for welfare cheques. The geckos chirrup ever more loudly from their concealed runs between the ceiling and the roof. The invisible neighbour is known to be contributing to the sewing of a thousand home-made protective masks, for charity. It is illegal to walk unmasked, which probably contradicts the old colonial law, still on the books, which makes it illegal to walk masked. Is it a type of escape, then, at the end of this paragraph, to ascend what Verdi himself called the ‘rickety scale’ of his Desdemona’s ‘Ave Maria’, and contemplate sopranos singing about heaven?

It is no kind of escape to consider the meaning of consent, and enthusiastic ...


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