Tag Archive: Giuseppe Verdi

2016 in retrospect — The Bard Music Festival: Giacomo Puccini and his World

Giacomo Puccini. © Frank C. Bangs, Library of Congress.

If advance gossip is any indicator, this year’s Bard Festival, devoted to Giacomo Puccini and his World, was one of the most controversial. “Puccini! Controversial!” You say, “There’s not really enough in him to have a controversy about, is there? Those sappy tear-jerkers speak for themselves.” In fact there was a lot of grumbling. Some festival regulars stayed away, or dragged themselves to only one concert, the one that included pieces by Dallapiccola, Pizzetti, and Petrassi. Even with these absentees the Festival sold out, or came close to selling out. Most of the concerts and the panel discussions were packed.

Friends and Foes of the Enlightenment: Glimmerglass 2015, Fortieth Anniversary Season

Shakespeare’s stygian supernatural tragedy, replete with witches, paradoxical prophesies, grisly murders and ghosts, was embraced enthusiastically by Verdi. He made the following remark: “This tragedy is one of the greatest creations of man.” His enthusiasm for the play and his own adaptation never waned. The original Italian four-act 1847 score was heavily revised in 1865, the latter version used a libretto in French and was in five acts. This 1865 revision really has the most compelling music for Lady Macbeth and the chorus, the latter carrying much of the weight of the opera. In fact, the choruses throughout Macbeth show Verdi at his most innovative and are on the par with those in his Requiem.  Tonight’s performance followed the revised version, sung in Italian, with the laudatory reinstatement of “Mal per me che m’affidai,” Macbeth’s stunning final aria from the original.

Prom 13: Verdi’s Requiem

Temporary immortality. The Verdi Requiem is an event, a masterpiece, an emotional catharsis, but also an old shoe. Well worn by dozens of recordings since two great ones, by Toscanini and De Sabata, started the grooves turning, it hasn’t been saved from familiarity by being magnificent, any more than the Grand Canyon has. What do you do to breathe life back into music that has been worn down by so many feet? (I apologize to readers who feel that I’m asking the equivalent of “Caviar again? Didn’t we have that yesterday?”)

Fellini and Rigoletto

In a way this production is better Fellini than Fellini. Allowing influence from his films without being overly enamoured of them, Director Elijah Moshinsky manages to draw the opera into the modern era while intensifying Verdi’s tight drama. It would have been easy to let the great filmmaker’s sardonic sense of humour to infiltrate the opera and mock or belittle the characters to avoid falling too deeply into them, but on the contrary, the company seemed almost always to be sensitive to the characters. Verdi’s creation is remarkable how it holds such an intense dramatic tension for so long and with a story which could easily seem an uphill slog. He also manages somehow to keep some sympathy for Rigoletto and ambiguity for the Duke despite their despicable actions. As for the curse, though it is Monterone who first vocalises it, it is really Rigoletto who brings it down on himself.

La Traviata at La Fenice with Sadovnikova, Secco and Meoni, under Myung-Whun Chung

iave’s and Verdi’s adaptation of Dumas fils’ La dame aux camélias is ubiquitous these days, both in regional companies and the major houses, but for some time it hasn’t caught up with me…until now. It is without a doubt regrettable that the audience draw of a handful of operas pushes outstanding less familiar works from the repertoire, and La Traviata is one of the most egregious culprits, but a cast, staging, and musical direction of the calibre I witnessed at La Fenice this Sunday afternoon make all these considerations irrelevant and make it impossible to resist La Traviata as an extraordinary masterpiece that touches basic issues in us all: the life of women in society, the faith of young men in passion, the blindness of good intentions. The results are genuinely tragic, and a performance like this goes far beyond the usual ritual and can genuinely move us.

Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra at the Royal Albert Hall

Streaks of gold. Among Verdi operas that connoisseurs treasure but not the general public, Simon Boccanegra stands high. In the modern era there have been perhaps two worthy recordings and very occasional stagings. Yet suddenly Boccanegra is everywhere, thanks to the decision by Placido Domingo to take on a baritone role. Last night at the Proms he scored a spectacular success, with popping flashbulbs and shouting worthy of the World Cup. Verdi was a confirmed atheist, but if his shade survives, it must have been astonished – the reception was far wilder than the one accorded to Die Meistersinger the night before.

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