If you haven’t realized it by now, Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus wanted Cannon to mean more than action movies. That’s why they made a deal with opera star Plácido Domingo to make a movie of one of his operas. They wanted to make Verdi’s Il trovatore but he felt that Otello was the right one to film, as it was his signature role.
Domingo had worked with Franco Zeffirelli (whose career goes from the highs of Romeo and Juliet and Taming of the Shrew to, well, The Champ and Endless Love) on Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci. As they were working on Tosca as a stage production, they taked about collaborating again.
As shooting was to begin, there was a massive earthquake in Mexico City. While born in Madrid, he grew up there and left his career to help with the rescue efforts. He also performed at several benefit concerts to raise funds for the victims and released an album of one of the events for charity. His work was so important to the people of Mexico City that tehre’s a statue in his honor, sculpted by Alejandra Zúñiga, and made from keys donated by people.
Zeffirelli said that the tenor used his hard work in this film to help forget the traumatic sights in Mexico of the injured and dead, several of whom were his family members.
Otello follows the original score of Arrigo Boito’s opera with some changes, such as cutting some sections short. It also allows for the medium of film to expand on what would normally happen on stage. The soundtrack, however, has the full opera.
Unlike many Cannon movies, this was well-reviewed. It was named Best Foreign Film of 1986 by the U.S. National Board of Review of Motion Pictures and played the 1986 Cannes Film Festival. It was Zeffirelli’s favorite movie that he made to the point that he felt that he could never make another film this good.