Italy Part Deux: Verdi

Moving back into the history of opera, even while Richard Wagner was alive, he was challenged by Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901).  Verdi’s first success was Nabucco (1842), and his first great opera, Rigoletto, premiered in 1851.  

Portrait of Giuseppe Verdi by Giovanni Boldini

Giuseppe Verdi

It would be wise to spend a few minutes studying Nabucco, listening to “Va, pensiero (Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves).”  From the dramatic opening (three) chords, we can hear some of Wagner’s influence.  However, as the piece unfolds, we hear both heroic and lyric strains of music.  Nabucco ushered in a new era.  

As a point of interest, Andrea Bocelli has included this music in his concert of “Sacred Arias.”  As part of his concert, Bocelli also sings a concert version of the Intermezzo from Pietro Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana, now called the “Sancta Maria.”  

Here is the video clip of “Va, pensiero.”

 In Rigoletto, Verdi used a text by Franceso Maria Piave, adapted from Victor Hugo’s play, Le Roi s’amuse.  (We cannot but marvel at the tendency by opera librettists to go back into the texts of classic authors and playwrights; without doing so, we would never have enjoyed the splendid Les Miserables in Paris, London or New York.)  Verdi revived the Italian reliance on the voice, rather than the orchestra.  We can see this in his masterpieces of his “middle period:” Rigoletto (1851), Il Trovatore (1853) and La Traviata (1853); Un ballo in maschera (1859); La forza del destino (1862); Aida (1871); Requiem (1874); Otello (1881); and Falstaff (1893).

Because of Verdi’s stature as a composer, we are including some key arias from his best known operas.  From Il Trovatore, we have included a clip from a Met performance by Luciano Pavarotti, with english subtitles, to give you a sense of the dramatic moment on the stage.  

In the Section on “European Cultural Influences” we will go into greater depth on how Romani violin styles affected European music.  However, we are in the perfect place to introduce this concept now.  The next selection is called the “Anvil Chorus;” however, Verdi designated it as the “Coro di dingari (Italian Gypsy chorus).” 

 Next came Verdi’s La Traviata.  We have included a modern version of the fiery and dramatic “Follie! Follie! Delirio vano e questo!” because it suggests how the opera form can be interpreted over time.

In 1871, Verdi premiered Aida.  One of the great tenor arias of all time is “Celeste Aida,” and we have included a remastered version recorded by Enrico Caruso in 1911.  We are not sure how the technicians accomplish the remastering process; we only know that we are very grateful.