|No. 168 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages can be found in our archives at https://archive.org/details/pcast168|
As part of our look at opera through this month, I plan to spend some time showcasing the works of a pair of operatic giants of the 19th century: Richard Wagner representing the German tradition, and Giuseppe Verdi representing the Italian tradition. Missing is the French tradition – which could probably be suitably represented by either Jules Massenet or Charles Gounod. Maybe some other time…
Giuseppe Verdi was to opera in the Italian tradition what Beethoven was to the symphony. When he arrived on the scene some had suggested that effective opera after Rossini was not possible. Verdi, however, took the form to new heights of drama and musical expression. Partisans see him as at least the equal of Wagner, even though his style and musical persona were of an entirely different cast. In the end, both Verdi's popular vein—as heard in the operas Rigoletto, Il trovatore, and La traviata—and his deeper side—found in Aida, Otello, and Falstaff—demonstrate his mastery and far-reaching development of Italian opera.
Verdi has graced our pages earlier this year in the form of his Requiem Mass, and will come back next month when we pay tribute to Carlo Bergonzi – we also featured Verdi operas (Aida, Traviata and Trovatore) on Once or Twice a Fortnight.
For the moist part, the works I chose to underscore in today’s podcast feature both orchestral pages (like overtures) and arias from my personal collection. The first work featured, La forza del destino, opens with my very favourite Verdi overtire, and this is my very favourite performance, taken from a WWII-era documentary featuring the great Toscanini and his NBC Symphony. The recording integrated into the podcast isn’t of the best audio quality, but the performance is remarkable for how distinctly Toscanini singles out sections of the orchestra.
There are instances of Verdi operas that were either restaged or entirely redone for Parisian audiences. Jérusalem is a heavily revised version of Verdi's third opera, I Lombardi Alla Prima Crociata. Not only is the music rewritten substantially and the libretto different, but the text is in French. In the end, the work so pleased Verdi that he had the new version translated back into Italian! As it was the custom, Verdi included sometimes elaborate ballet sequences for Parisian use– the podcast includes the ballet scene from Jérusalem.
Many of the Verdi selections found here, including the highlights from Act I of La Traviata, come from a DECCA compilation called Viva Verdi! Issued as a 2 CD set for the centenary of Verdi’s death in 2001.
I think you will love this music too!