The Metropolitan Opera 2015-16 season will open on Sept. 21 with a new production of Verdi's masterpiece "Otello." The work represents the culmination of the famed composer's opus and is one of the most prized works in all of the repertoire.

The Music

Verdi went into early retirement in the early 1870s after the composition of "Aida" and the Messa da Requiem. However, he was eventually persuaded to take up Otello in the late 1870s in collaboration with Arrigo Boito. The composer himself started working on the music in 1884 and the opera made its triumphant premiere in 1887.

"Otello" is Verdi's first attempt at creating a through-written opera (a work in which the music is connected throughout an act with no pauses for applause), an indication of the times dominated by Verismo and Richard Wagner's music drama.

Yet "Otello" maintains many of the tropes and clichés of Italian opera. The opera opens with the chorus. There is a drinking song. There is a pezzo concertato in Act 3 and even a "mad scene" for Desdemona at the start of Act 4. There is also a cabaletta duet for Otello and Iago to close off Act 2 among other things.

However, this opera showcases Verdi's constant search for new musical forms and innovation. The love duet that ends the first Act plays with conventional operatic forms, with a central section representing the only moment in which the two singers actually join voices simultaneously (they do the same at the end of the duet as well, albeit for a brief moment). There are no formal arias, with the composer instead opting for monologues; Otello's "Dio! Mi Potevi" starts off with a section in which the tenor's short phrases hint at the character's breathlessness before transforming into a yearning lyrical section. This aria actually represents one of the musical dichotomies of the work that some scholars have argued as Verdi's own critique of the opera world at large.

Verdi lived in a time in which the traditions of bel canto, the music language in which vocal virtuosity ruled supreme, was being replaced by verismo, a musical language that sought a more "realistic" means of expressing emotion through voice. Declamation took on a more prominent role in verismo, eschewing the longer legato singing of bel canto. Dare we say that beauty of line was not as important as intensity of emotion, allowing often for exaggerated vocal gestures to enter into a singers' technique.

In "Otello," Verdi seems to hint at this battle between the two traditions. In Desdemona, we see bel-canto embodied as her music is lyrical and melodic from start to finish. On the other side of the spectrum is the villainous Iago, who declaims throughout, his only lyrical phrases often used for sarcasm and destruction. In between is the opera's eponymous character, wrangling with both opposing forces within him. As he falls to Iago's tricks, Otello, who opens the work with the virtuosic and heroic "Esultate," finds himself becoming more and more trapped by the declamatory style. At the end of Act 3, Otello suffers an epileptic attack and his vocal lines become jarring and cut up; this is not singing or even declaiming, but an abortion of the two.

Even if this analysis is not a part of Verdi's intention, it certainly showcases "Otello" as a complex musical work that also reflects on its time.

The History

"Otello" has been featured on the Met stage a total of 325 times to date.

The opera premiered with the company on Nov. 23, 1891 with Jean de Reszke singing the title role and Emma Albani as Desdemona. Eduardo Camera played Iago.

Prior to that, however, the Grand Italian Opera Company had given three performances featuring the original Otello, Francesco Tamagno, at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York in March of 1890.

Other prominent tenors to take on the difficult role include Placido Domingo, Jon Vickers, James McCracken, Mario Del Monaco, Leo Slezak, Giovanni Martinelli and Ramon Vinay. Domingo owned the role at the Met from the early 1980s until 1999. He sang his first Otello on Sept. 24, 1979 and gave his final performance of the role on Oct. 9, 1999, a span of 34 performances of the work at the house.

Gabriella Tucci, Pilar Lorengar, Renee Fleming, Renata Scotto and Renata Tebaldi have been among the major sopranos to sing Desdemona.

Among the famed Iago's to sing at the Met have been Leonard Warren, Robert Merrill, Sherrill Milnes, Thomas Stewart, Sergei Leiferkus.

The Production

The opening night performance will feature a new production from renowned director Bartlett Sher, the first time the opera gets a new production since 1994 when Elijah Moshinsky was at the helm.

Moshinsky's production hued toward a more traditional approach, giving singers free reign to showcase their own interpretations of the character.

Sher is no stranger to the Met as he has directed Giaocchino Rossini's comic masterpieces "Il Barbiere di Siviglia" and "Le Comte Ory" and Offenbach's "Les Contes d'Hoffmann." This marks the director's first dramatic work with the company.

The Performers

Aleksandrs Antonenko is arguably the most famed interpreter of the title role in modern times. He broke out on the international scene when he sang the role at the Salzburg Festival in 2008 under the baton of Riccardo Muti. He has since sung the role in London and Paris among other places. He is set to sing every performance at the Met and will also share his interpretation in Barcelona in January and February of 2016.

The role of Desdemona will feature Sonya Yoncheva in the first run of performances. The soprano had a breakout at the Met last year when she replaced Kristine Opolais in Puccini's "La Boheme" and later took on the role of Violetta in Verdi's "La Traviata" replacing an ill Marina Poplavskaya.

She will be replaced by Hibla Gerzmava for the April and May 2016 performances. Baritone Zeljko Lucic is slated to do all the performances of Iago; he previously sang the role in Zurich and Frankfurt and is one of today's leading Verdi interpreters.

Dimitri Pittas and Alexey Dolgov will share the role of Cassio while Gunther Groissbock and James Morris will split appearances as Lodovico.

Yannick Nezet-Seguin will conduct the September and October run of the work while Adam Fischer be at the helm for the spring performances.