Tag Archives: Giuseppe Verdi
“Be guided by this, there are three roles in this opera and three roles only: Lady Macbeth, Macbeth and the chorus of the Witches.”—Giuseppe Verdi
In 1847, Giuseppe Verdi stood the world of Italian opera on its head when he wrote his tenth opera in seven years. (He would later refer to that grueling period as his “years in the galley.”) This was no routine work. In writing Macbeth, he made a major leap into the future—his future, Italian opera’s future, our future. It would take half a century for the logical consequence of Macbeth to be fully drawn, and even then it would take another 50 or 60 years before its significance was recognized.
With this opera, Verdi began the long process of dismantling the forms he inherited from Rossini and the bel canto period. In so doing, he irrevocably transformed Italian opera. Dramatic coherence became dominant. It is in Macbeth that he stipulates, with an insistence and virulence beyond what he had demonstrated in the past, what the singers must do to serve the drama. He no longer accepts the status quo, neither in the comportment of the singers, who must now act with their voices as well as their bodies, nor in the overall form of the music. Verdi chooses musical forms that fit the dramatic situation. The opera is not a series of formulaic scenes designed to showcase the vocal prowess of the performers, but a concentrated distillation of the dramatic essence. As he instructed baritone Felice Varesi, his first Macbeth: “I will not cease to recommend that you study the dramatic situations and the words: the music will follow on its own.”
In 1986, LA Opera’s inaugural season opened with Giuseppe Verdi’s Otello, starring Plácido Domingo. Of the opera, director Götz Friedrich said, “The theme [of Otello] is eternal and current: The Soldier, shoved into peacetime, proves to be defenseless and helpless in the face of the attacks of everyday life, the persecutions of injured vanity. In ancient tragedy, the heroes fell because of the gods. With Shakespeare and Verdi, it is the envy of men which destroys the outsider.” This would become one of the company’s iconic productions.
Since its successful premiere in 1887, Otello has catapulted audiences to the Shakespeare of Verdi. This is a world where all the essentials of storytelling meet the heightened emotions of an operatic score. Take, for example, the below duet between Otello (Domingo) and Iago (Sherrill Milnes), “Si, pel ciel.”
“Everyone cried out at the idea of putting a hunchback on the stage; well, there you are. I was very happy to write Rigoletto…and it is my best opera.” – Giuseppe Verdi, July 26, 1852
Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto is Victor Hugo’s play Le roi s’amuse on steroids. Verdi’s music energizes the story’s tragic drama, a father-daughter tale that ends unhappily. In the opera, the title character is a court jester to the womanizing Duke of Mantua, who openly mocks his social superiors in order to please the Duke. One day, he mocks the wrong man – the Count Monterone, whose daughter has been seduced and discarded by the Duke. The Count warns him never to make light of a father’s grief, a threat which haunts Rigoletto, as he is father to the beautiful Gilda, whom he keeps secluded from eyes of lecherous men like the Duke. When Gilda falls in love with the Duke, Rigoletto decides to have him murdered, but his plans go awry and Gilda ends up dying as a result.
Rigoletto’s most famous aria is the Duke’s Act IV show of callousness in the form of “La donna e mobile” (women are fickle), an unforgettable tune that returns—to heart wrenching effect—at the very end of the opera. The main point of the aria? Women are flighty and untrue, but men still need their love. (Warning: This may change your perspective on your favorite pasta commercial.)
Plácido Domingo as Rigoletto and Vittorio Grigolo as The Duke