With tension, fear and anticipation, Desdemona awaits the arrival of her husband Otello who, as supreme commander of the Venetian fleet, had to fight a great sea battle. But not everyone is concerned about him. Roderigo and Jago would rather his ship were wrecked than have a safe landing. Otello is victorious, though, but marked from battle. Jago, overlooked for promotion as a soldier of Otello in favour of Cassio, goads Roderigo, a once-rejected suitor of Desdemona, on to revenge. Above all, he should keep an eye on his alleged rival Cassio. With the advice that tonight shall be the wedding night of Otello and Desdemona, and everyone shall toast her beauty, Jago incites Cassio to drink. Quickly losing control of his senses, Cassio reacts violently to Roderigo’s provocation and injures Montano, the former governor. Otello alone is able to stop the fight. He demotes Cassio and orders, furiously, as Desdemona is shocked by the commotion, everyone to return to their homes. For the first time since their wedding, Otello and Desdemona are alone again. With the memory of the beginning of their shared love, the desire and yearning for togetherness return. Desdemona believes that love can heal all of Otello’s war wounds. They kiss.
Jago recommends Cassio to turn to Desdemona in order to regain his position with Otello. Cassio decides to take his advice. With the newly-found knowledge of how easily people fall for his schemes, Jago devises a devilish confession: his existence as the embodiment of evil. Otello believes he has seen Cassio with Desdemona and, with suggestive questions, Jago sows seeds of doubt within Otello about his former friend, resulting in the poisoned advice to beware of jealousy. In a semi-improvised ceremony, Desdemona is celebrated like a saint. But as she pleads with her husband to show Cassio mercy, Otello immediately senses treachery. He gruffly fends off Desdemona and throws her handkerchief to the floor. Jago’s wife Emilia picks it up but Jago takes possession of it with the intention of strengthening his scheme. Otello demands proof from Jago of Desdemona’s infidelity. He tells of how Cassio spoke of Desdemona in his sleep and that he even saw her handkerchief in his possession. Otello believes his suspicions to be confirmed, while Jago entices him to swear an oath to carry out revenge.
Once again, Desdemona pleads with her husband on Cassio’s behalf. The fact that false suspicions have blinded him does not enter her imagination. Otello demands to see the handkerchief that Jago has brought into his possession. Angry that Desdemona has lost it and believing that she has given it to a lover, he cynically curses her as a whore and sends her away. His will to live has gone. For the benefit of the eavesdropping Otello, Jago stages a conversation with Cassio, in which the latter apparently reveals his affair with Desdemona and shows the handkerchief which has been placed by Jago in his apartment. Furious with jealousy, Otello is now convinced of Desdemona’s guilt. Lodovico, the Venetian ambassador, brings news of Otello’s recall to Venice, and Cassio is named as his successor. Otello humiliates Desdemona. It is now clear to her that her relationship with him is irreparably broken. Jago goads Roderigo to murder Cassio, and Otello to fatal revenge on Desdemona. Otello sends everyone away and breaks down. Jago triumphs.
Desdemona, who had believed that she could be happy with Otello despite all their difficulties, is now filled with dark misgivings. She sings the Willow Song that one of her mother’s handmaids once sung, the one who was abandoned by her lover and subsequently left her job. She prays an Ave Maria. Otello enters the room. He kisses his wife. Desdemona awakes, and he pronounces her death. She protests her innocence, but Otello declines to hear her arguments. He strangles her. Emilia bursts in and says that Cassio has killed Roderigo. Otello still believes he is right. Only when Jago and Lodovico enter can Emilia uncover her husband’s scheme. Otello realises his mistake and stabs himself. Dying, he kisses his murdered wife one last time.