Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Opera-tune-ists: Giuseppe Verdi

First off, apologies for the horrendous pun.  My brother came up with it, and it was just too awful not to use.  I'll try not to subject you to too many more of them today.  Secondly, today I'm introducing another new series to the South Florida Opera Scene.  Opera-tune-ists, in case you haven't guessed, are composers.  (You know, opera-TUNE-ists?  Tune, get it?  Oh, never mind.)  Anyway, as with the Exploring Artists series, I will be starting with my favorite composers, and I will slowly work my way on to some that I may be less familiar with.  With each composer, I'll start with a brief history, discuss some of his (or her) famous works, and touch on some more obscure compositions.  And who knows?  We might all discover something new from this!




Our first opera-tune-ist is Giuseppe Verdi, my absolute favorite composer.  Verdi was born in 1813 in Le Roncole, a village located in the Duchy of Parma.  He began his musical education in Busetto, but moved to Milan as a young man to complete his studies.  His first opera, Oberto, was moderately successful when it premiered at La Scala in 1839.  Un Giorno di Regno, his second opera, was his first attempt at a comedy.  The opera, however, was a failure, due in part to the untimely deaths of his wife and two young children while he was writing it.  After its premiere and subsequent cancellation, Verdi almost gave up composition, but fortunately for us, he agreed to write Nabucco, which skyrocketed him to fame.  In the years after this success, Verdi composed many brilliant works, including his three most popular operas, Il Trovatore, La Traviata, and Rigoletto.  After Aida, which premiered in 1871, Verdi took a sixteen year hiatus from composition, and did not produce another opera until 1887, when he unveiled Otello.  His final opera, Falstaff, was a huge success when it premiered in 1893.  In the intervening years before his death, he completed a handful of compositions that included the sacred work Stabat Mater.  Verdi suffered a stroke on January 21, 1901, and died six days later. 
During his lifetime, Verdi met many challenges to his work from the censors.  Many of his libretti were considered too politically provocative, and names, ranks, and locations had to be changed before the operas were deemed acceptable.  Verdi has been variably associated with the Risorgimento, and his name was adopted as an acronym for Vittorio Emanuele Re D'Italia.  Following the unification of Italy, he served briefly as a member of the Chamber of Deputies, and was named a Senator of the Kingdom.
Verdi's music was greatly influenced by Bellini, Donizetti, Rossini, and Meyerbeer, but he succeeded in creating a sound that was entirely his own.  Unlike many of his contemporaries, Verdi avoided any Wagnerian influence in all of his works except Otello.  Here are three examples of Verdi's brilliance, taken from his early, middle, and late career.
Here is Ildar Abdrazakov as Oberto, from Verdi's first forray into the world of opera.



No discussion of Verdi would be complete without the Brindisi from La Traviata, so here it is with that Titan among tenors, Placido Domingo.



Okay, I lied.  I will actually be sharing two examples from Verdi's middle career.  I just couldn't bring myself to write about Verdi without including one of the greatest Verdi baritones, Dmitri Hvorostovsky, singing one of Verdi's greatest baritone roles.  Now I agonized over whether to use Il Trovatore or Rigoletto, and Rigoletto almost won, but (I'm sure I've said this before) Il Trovatore is my very favorite, so how could I not choose it?  Anyway, here is Dmitri Hvorostovsky singing the duet from Act IV with Sondra Radvanovsky.



And here is Verdi's late triumph, Otello, sung by the brilliant duo, Placido Domingo and Sherrill Milnes.  Oh, and nice pants, Sherrill.



Okay, okay, I know I said only three videos, and I know I already added a fourth, but after all, I did say that I would include some works that were not so well-known.  So here is Dmitri Hvorostovsky (again) in I Masnadieri.  And a big thank you to our friend over at Dimaland for creating this beautiful video.



And on that note, I bid you all good night.  Until next time!

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