The following are excerpts from Guilio Ricordi's Disposizione Scenica. This was published for the opera containing detailed information on the characters, scenery and stage actions. The source for these passages is from Julien Budden's The Operas of Verdi. Volume 3.
2. Fixed blackcloth (Tela). This represents a stormy sea; it should be agitated by various captains which will keep up a continuous movement until the end of the act. At the rise of the curtain it should violently be shaken by several stage-hands disposed at suitable points below, who should also move up and down a few wooden discs, not too rapidly, to for the crests of waves. The horizon must be made to appear as distant as the dimensions of the stage permit.
3. Gauze curtain. This should cover the entire stage; later it will move slowly from left to right.
4. Lateral parapet. This represents a wing of the castle with a practicable door.
5. Lateral parapet. This continues the castle wing together with an inn door, also practicable; in front of this is a trellis supported on one side by the castle wall, on the other by three slender columns. Beneath this trellis three steel wires should be stretched on which in due course, about 60 centimeters high representing the castle ramparts facing towards the sea.
6. Practicable elevations, about 60 centimeters high representing the castle ramparts facing towards the sea.
7. Trees, rocks, walls, flats, and cut-outs which will close the view on the left and mask the commanding galley on the right.
8. Distant galleys; they should be about a metre in length and cross the stage at the back from right to left with smooth simple motion.
9. The commanding galley. This should be four or five metres in length according to the width of the stage; it should cross the stage with a movement suggestive of pitching and tossing.
10. A trap door: this will serve for the bonfire as will appear later on.
11. Electric lamps for sheet lightning.
12. Electric lamp for forked lightning.
13. (X) Bass drum especially constructed for thunder: two metres in length, 1-25 in diameter.
On the stage it must be darkest night, so that the effects of the storm can be all the more impressive. When Iago descends from the ramparts there should be a little more light at the proscenium - when the bonfire and the Chinese lanterns are lit the general illumination of the stage should be increased and the lateral lights at the back should be adjusted so that when the sky clears it should be appropriately lit.
In the larger theaters there should be four electric lamps placed high up in the winds; in the smaller theaters two should suffice. At the rise of the curtain they should produce repeated and prolonged flashes which gradually become less; when the overcast sky on the movable blackcloth remains only on the right the flashes on the left will cease; those on the right will continue for a while, ceasing completely about a minute after the entire sky has become clear.
Behind the movable blackcloth the electric lamp (11) will produce lightning flashes in the manner indicated for those in the wings, now in one place, now in another, wherever the clouds are transparent. Lamp Number 12 should emit a full flash across the entire backcloth. During the tempest it should be switched on no more than three times; at the same time a stage operator with a reflector of about 40 square centimeters will hold this toward the electric lamp and rapidly transmit the reflected beam from top to bottom along the transparent lines of the backcloth which represent the forked lightning. [Disp. scen., pp. 9-10.]
As soon as the chorus begins, three tables, two benches and two chairs should be brought out from the inn and placed outside and under the trellis, together with several cups and jars. Immediately afterwards 6 extras with 12 lighted Chinese lanterns (one in each hand) will come out of the inn and hang them on the wire beneath the trellis. . . Four extras will mount the practicable ramparts carrying large lighted Chinese lanterns on poles which they will affix to the ramparts themselves. . .They will be followed by about 20 or more extras and 8 or 10 boys and girls.
At this moment the lighting-hand should raise the lighting at the front of the stage and
also by the backcloth so as to give the effect of a perfectly clear night.
[Disp. scen., p. 20-1.]
From the left enter the 16 guards; they should range themselves backstage by the steps leading from the parapet; behind them 4 trumpeters who should take up a position on the steps themselves, on either side; they should pretend to play to the end of the fortissimo of the offstage trumpets, thereafter holding their instruments by their right sides; behind the trumpeters enter 4 Councillors, 2 Captains, 4 Venetian nobles, 4 Knights, 2 young Venetians, 2 gentlemen. . .behind them the Herald accompanying Lodovico who holds a parchment; behind Lodovico enter Roderigo; at the same time from the door right enter Desdemona escorted by Iago; behind them Emilia; they cross the stage and take up a position left. These last three characters should be in position before the entry of Lodovico.
From the same door right enter 4 Knights of the Garter - 4 pages-in-waiting on Desdemona, 4
pages-in-waiting on Otello. . .The Herald should come to a halt in the center of the stage after
having bowed to Lodovico.
[Disp. scen., p. 72-3.]
Desdemona turns slightly towards Emilia, who passes behind her and, removing a kind of brooch which binds her mistress's hair, allows it cascade upon her shoulders; she puts the brooch away in a jewel box.'Cantiamo'.
At the return of the 'Willow Song' Desdemona clasps her hands, rests her elbows on the little table and so supports her head; she moves from this position as she says, 'Sale'. Emilia passes right behind the table and takes up a listening attitude.
Desdemona rises to her feet but without moving away from the chair; and as she finishes the first part, 'Sarà la mia ghirlanda', she resumes her seat almost mechanically.'Scendean l'augelli a vol'
She raises her left arm as though indicating the flight of the birds, gradually lowers it, keeping it outstretched.'E gli occhi suoi'
She remains motionless with an expression of extreme sorrow: then suddenly her gaze alights upon a ring which she wears on her finger; she removes it, and turning Right, hands it to Emilia saying, 'Riponi quest'anello.' Emilia puts it away in the casket.'Povera Barbara'
She rises to her feet with an air of grief; then she comes downstage two or three paces, saying with great simplicity, 'Solea la storia'. . .Emilia moves slightly left.'Odo un lamento'
Just as she is about to finish the song she seems to hear a groan, and suddenly stops short; turning towards Emilia she makes a sign of listening.
Alarmed, she takes a couple of paces backstage, while Emilia also moves in the same direction, then she suddenly turns to speak. Desdemona says to her, 'Be silent,' then, troubled once more, points to the door Left and cries out:'Chi bate a quell porta?'
Emilia goes hurriedly to the door, then turns and reassures Desdemona as she replies, 'È il vento.''Salce! Salce! Salce!'
Desdemona recovers her calm; and turning towards the audience comes forward slowly for a couple of paces, then she resumes her former position to finish the song: Emilia should have moved a little nearer to her.
This last lament should be sung with a strange, mournful voice that seems to come from a distance; then Desdemona should remain motionless for a moment; then as though to dispel such gloomy thoughts she pulls herself together, turns to Emilia and says to her affectionately: 'Emilia, addio.''Come m'ardon le ciglia!'
She covers her eyes with one hand; she remains thoughtful, adding with great sadness: 'È presagio di pianto.''Buona notte.'
She speaks with decision, making a gesture of salutation to Emilia; Emilia returns the salutation and moves slowly and sadly towards the door left.
Seeing Emilia go, Desdemona recalls her with the passionate cry: 'Ah! Emilia!' and takes two steps towards her. Emilia halts, turns and runs to Desdemona, who enfolds her in an affectionate embrace, then dismisses her with a kiss on the forehead. These movements should be calculated so that the embrace takes place exactly on the second 'Emilia, addio.'
[Disp. scen., p. 89-91.]
Ricordi's Disposizione Scenica entered by Stephen L. Parker