“Figlia.” “Mio Padre:” Verdi’s Patriarchal Obsession

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When we pick up an opera score or listen to a recording, oftentimes we do so in a detached way, just to listen to something beautiful or find music for a romantic dinner, or we do so in order to digest a role and an opera, which again forces us to look at the written score and reference the best historically accurate recordings we can find.  What we don’t often do, as singers, is delve further into the reasons why these operas were composed, what motivated the composers beyond just creating music, and why they oftentimes added their own characters to pre-existing dramas or wrote specific familial and socio-familial relationships within their operas.

In each composer’s respective repertoire, these operas hold significant developmental musical and compositional attributes as well the philosophical, psychological attributes.  Unlocking secrets behind the composition of these works and sometimes secrets about the composers themselves offers performers and the aficionado a more valuable starting point on which to base their characterizations and dramatic impetus.  Before approaching the issue of Verdi’s patriarchal obsession, it is first important to note that there were certain conventions during his time that had to be met.

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“La Solita Forma and the Uses of Convention” is the title of a very important article by historian Harold S. Powers written in 1987.  In it, he argued about the analysis of, in my personal opinion, one of the greatest Verdian historians of all time, Julian Budden.  The argument between these two musicological giants refers to what is called “Verdian Tinta”:  a term that is not solely preoccupied with musical attributes but, rather, a musico-dramatic presupposition of Verdi himself.  There are many words that float around in history books that are specific to Verdian analysis.  For example:  Abramo Basevi’s other  terms “colorito” or “tinta generale,” referring to a general flavour that makes up the entirety of the opera; again, not necessarily musical.  Other popular terms associated with Verdi’s style during this period are: Versi scolti:  used for the scena (not unaccompanied but in a parlato type style) and Versi lirici:  used for action pieces and arias.  formal stanzas grouped symmetrically.

La Solita Forma: Abramo Basevi

Introductory music, usually instrumental

Tempo d’attacco: Recitative or dialogue to an initial or basic tempo

Adagio/Cavatina/”Pezzo concertato”

Tempo di mezzo (middle movement, interlude, often sounds “interrupting”)

Cabaletta and (in the case of the final scene of an act)

Finale Stretta

Also the scenes have a specific structure, they are not simply written out.  During this period in Italian opera, it was mandatory to follow these set structures at the behest of getting your opera censored.  Yes, things were that specific.  For example:  a Verdian duet, of which there are several in Rigoletto, begins with a “Tempo D’attacco”: a first lyric moment of a scene, usually adagio and in informal language.  Then comes the “cantabile” which usually contains a sustained flowing vocal line.  What is interesting is that Verdi began to break these traditions. For example, in Rigoletto he does not use this form in the Rigoletto/Sparafucile duet, nor the Gilda/Rigoletto duet “Pari Siamo” or the Gilda/Duca duet.  Thus, structurally, Verdi was beginning to break away from tradition, a process that he would struggle against until the end of his life and especially once a young man named Arrigo Boito came into the picture.

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Rigoletto and Gilda

Early Background:

Verdi came from a peasant background and it was only through his future father-in-law that he was able to pursue a musical education.  Eventually, he became the greatest Italian opera composer even though, of course, I still argue for Puccini and Boito’s place in that echelon.  Just like our present time is a politically charged one, and we read of opera companies having to close their doors and threats to the livelihood of opera, Verdi too lived during a politically charged period called the Italian Risorgimento, or re-birth.  Italy had been oppressed politically, socially, and artistically, and once the country became unified in 1861, the arts were changed dramatically. It is not unforeseen why Nationalism was such a large threat in Verdi’s desire to write, at the beginning of his career.  Operas like Oberto, and I Lombardi alla prima incrociata, as well as Nabucco were all very nationalistic, however Verdi would later turn to treatments of more “human” dramas.  He became the principle authority in Italian music of Romanticism (the details of which have filled thousands of books); essentially, this meant that Verdi who had stemmed from the Scuola di Bel Canto (Rossini, Donizetti, Bellini) began incorporating specific romantic idioms into their music.  Verdi also began a fascination with Shakespearean dramas because he felt they were the most “human,” especially Macbeth (which he set), Anthony and Cleopatra (which he abandoned), Otello (which he set) and King Lear (which he apparently set but burned).   Topics of passion for a lover and duty to family became a central element, one that engulfed the majority of the musical atrributes as well.  Most often, Verdi places his characters in a horrid situation between love for someone they should not love, and duty for their family, or more specifically and relevant to us:  a father figure, a point I’ll return to momentarily.

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Death of his wife and Children:

In May of 1836, Verdi was appointed “maestro di musica” for the town of Busseto, and two months later he married the woman he loved, Margherita Barezzi.  The couple travelled to Milan for their honeymoon, but it was not simply a honeymoon.  Verdi was there to re-establish contacts where a promise of success shimmered.  It was during this time that he composed the Sei Romanze, which are in the Verdi Liriche book that many of you own and have studied from.  The most famous of these is “In solitaria stanza” which would present the germ of the melody of Leonora’s “Tacea la notte placida” in Il Trovatore.  He also composed “Meine Ruh ist hin” from Goethe’s faust  “Perduta ho la pace” in which there is an echo of “Tutte le feste al tempio from Act II of Rigoletto.

Portrait of Margherita Barezzi Verdi, Wife of Giuseppe Verdi by Augusto Mussini

Margherita Barezzi

We do not know much about Verdi’s relationship with Margherita.  No letters survive between them.  Passive in every other aspect of his life, it is probable that he remained so even in private matters and that he consented as usual to play the role of a docile marionette whose strings were gently manipulated by his father-in-law. Margherita’s character comes to life only once in a famous letter Verdi wrote to Giulio Ricordi from Sant’Agata on October 19, 1879.  In this letter, he wrote that he had been suffering from angina and that he was having trouble paying the rent.  Seeing his distress, Margherita took up the few gold trinkets she possessed, went out of the house, and managed to gather together the necessary amount and gave it to Verdi.  He was very moved by this gesture.  There is only one portrait of them, in the Museo Teatrale alla Scala which shows Margherita at the time of her marriage.  She is described as plain, natural, and not one who gave an overall great impression.  During the same period, Verdi wrote,

“My small son fell ill at the beginning of April:  the doctors could not discover what was wrong, and the poor child died painfully, in the arms of his desperate mother.  But this was not enough: a few days later, my little girl also fell ill…and this illness also proved fatal!…and even this was not enough: in the first days of June my young wife was struck down by violent encephalitis and on June 19 1840, a third coffin left my house!  I was alone!…alone!! In the space of about two months, the three people most dear to me had vanished forever:  my family had been destroyed.”

It is from this moment that we might understand why Verdi had an obsession with the patriarchal in his operas and why the role of the “father” who was suffering or struggling with the loss of a daughter, either to some man who he knew would destroy her, or to illness.

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The young Verdi with a look of sadness

The historian Helen M. Greenwald in 1994, wrote a seminal article on this patriarchal obsession.  Greenwald identifies certain aspects of Verdi’s operas, that they tend to be more masculine where, for example, Puccini’s operas are more feminine.  It is also not surprising that several of Verdi’s operas began to focus less on Nationalistic subjects but to merge them with the crucial father-daughter relationships that became the underlying current within them.

Verdian Operas that depict the Patriarchal Obsession

Oberto, Conte di San Bonifacio and his daughter Leonora (1839)

Nabucco, King of Babylon and his daughters Abigaille and Fenena (1842)

Arvino the Count of Toulouse in I Lombardi and his daughter Giselda (1843)

Ataliba chief of the Peruvian tribe in Alzira and his daughter Alzira (1845)

Macbeth, and his son Malcolm (1847)

Massimiliano (the Count Moor in I masnadieri) and his niece Amalia (1847)

Luisa Miller and her father Miller (a retired soldier) in Luisa Miller (1849)

Rigoletto and his daughter Gilda (1851).

It is at this point that the father daughter relationships begin to be even more prominent in Verdi’s repertoire with:

Violetta Valery and her potential father-in-law Giorgio Germont in La Traviata (1853)

Simon Boccanegra and his daughter Amelia Grimaldi (1857)

Il Marchese di Calatrava and his daughter Leonora di Vargas in La Forza del Destino (1862)

Don Carlo and Elizabetta di Valois in Don Carlo (1867)

Amonasro King of Ethiopia and his daughter Aida (1871)

Ford and his daughter Nannetta in Falstaff (1893).

Rigoletto (1851)

Rigoletto is undoubtedly one of Verdi’s masterpieces:  even those critics who would consign the pre-Rigoletto works to oblivion are agreed on this fact.  It marks the beginning of his second or middle period.  In it, he continued the process he seemed to have begun in the last act of Luisa Miller: a move toward opening the closed forms of Romantic Italian Opera.  He continued to write his operas in separate numbers but with a more flexible approach and he continued to use the solita forma in many aspects but gradually he began to move away from convention.

In Rigoletto, Verdi’s working unit is no longer the aria, but the scena.  What is most interesting in the opera is that Gilda has three major scenes with her father, who rather than let his daughter be free to grow up in a normal environment, encloses her, smothers her, and controls her because he cannot bare losing her.  He had already, like Verdi lost his wife and all that remains of that love is Gilda.  His beautiful, “Deh non parlare al misero” in which he tenderly remembers his dead wife may be Verdi’s own thoughts about Margherita Barezi, and is expressive and consoling, as are the moving phrases in his reply to Gilda’s question about family, friends, and country.

In regards to Gilda, her coloratura is always dramatically or emotionally meaningful.  Never does Verdi give her runs for the purpose of aimlessly dazzling display.  For example, “Caro Nome, which is completely written in character is not the type of coloratura aria in which you would decorate the second stanza of the cabaletta, as is typical of Bellini or Donizetti and Rossini.  Verdi writes in what he wants, it is intended and should be sung emotionally not as a feat of vocal prowess, even if it requires one.

The duet “Piangi faniciulla” between Rigoletto and Gilda is most affecting, her disjointed tearful phrase contrasting with his legato. Verdi’s genius produces music of heart rending beauty by the simplest and most economic means.

The final act is telling because Rigoletto believes his daughter has gone to Verona and is safe.  His entire mood becomes one of revenge and so the last act is brilliantly constructed.  The storm scene is operatic writing at its finest, real music theatre as opposed to the concert-in-costume of a great many pre-Verdian Italian operas.

The final duet between Rigoletto and the dying Gilda is so difficult dramatically and well-written because the dying music is effective due to its combination of simple sincerity with the composer’s ability to draw beautiful lines out of the air.  The final release of “Lassu in cielo” is ethereal and must have been how Verdi himself wanted to hold his daughter or his wife as they died without his being able to save them.

Although all of the characters in Rigoletto are valuable to the plot.  Some might argue that the story is trite, however, dramatically speaking, even if one character were removed from the drama, the story would no longer work or make sense.  The remarkable psychological insight of the characters is integral to the overall structure of the opera but also to the structure of the music.  This attribute makes Rigoletto one of the most popular operas as well as one of the finest musically and dramatically.  The entire opera is infused with a humanity but in a very real sense, beneath the obvious surface differences, Rigoletto functions on the relationship between Gilda and her father: his protection of her, his control over her, his constant retelling of inner pain and loss over his wife, his withholding of information, his desire to be the only man in Gilda’s life…all this to protect his daughter, when in the end his own actions bring about her death.  Every time Gilda dies, Verdi’s children die again for him, and perhaps Rigoletto’s selfish actions in being so strict with his daughter are exactly what Verdi wished he had been able to do for his own children, but more poignantly to protect them from death.  Powerful as he was, he could not save his children, but they live immortal in Gilda and all of the daughters of the Verdian repertoire.

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©Mary-Lou Vetere

EXCLUSIVE: Upcoming Interview with one of the Greatest Verdian Sopranos of our Day

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On Thursday October 10th and Friday October 11th, The Last Verista will feature a fascinating, revealing portrait of Verdi and his music, his importance in today’s musical climate, and the difficulties and thrills of singing his heroines in an exclusive two part interview with one of the greatest Verdian sopranos of our day.  You DON’T want to miss this rare opportunity to hear her fascinating take on the great maestro and his music.  Stay tuned!!

 

interview in progress

 

Dies Irae: Verdi and the Messa da Requiem. For Manzoni or a Response to Boito?

Riveting, haunting, frightening, and thrilling to the core. Such is this music and so it has been used sparingly in films and quite possibly marks the most wrathful music that Verdi ever wrote.  That this music and its bombastic presence was born of the great maestro might solely mark him as a genius, but it is even more fascinating to consider why the Dies Irae was inserted into the Sequence of the Mass and how it absolutely stands out within the Requiem, in his oeuvre, and as a seminal work in the musical canon, as a whole.  Historically, that the Messa da Requiem is a musical setting of the Roman Catholic funeral mass for four soloists, double choir and orchestra. It was composed in memory of Alessandro Manzoni, the Italian poet and novelist much admired by Verdi. The first performance in San Marco in Milan on 22 May 1874 marked the first anniversary of Manzoni’s death and at one time it was called the Manzoni Requiem.  It is typically not performed in the liturgy but in concert form and lasts around 85–90 minutes.

Typical forms of the Mass

  • Introit
  • Kyrie Eleison
  • Gradual
  • Tract
  • Sequence (where Verdi inserts the Dies Irae)
  • Offertory
  • Sanctus
  • Agnus Dei
  • Communion
  • Pie Jesu
  • Libera Me
  • In Paradisum

Well, that’s what’s documented anyway, but there is much more behind the composition of the Requiem and especially the Dies Irae.  What I’ve learned in my historical studies is to take “historical documentation” with a grain of salt.  Usually, things are well-documented, but it seems that in the Italian Opera of the 19th Century there is always some detail left out…sometimes deliberately.  Certainly, politics and Verdi’s music are not subjects that have been ignored by historians, and so it is very easy to say that politics played a part in the Requiem, but I’m here to suggest that this was perhaps not in the way one might think.  Prior to 1874, Wagner had gained a respected place in the operatic echelon, even if this was not universally accepted in Italy by Italian composers nor by the Ricordi enterprise.  As a result, the younger generations of composers began to challenge Verdi who was powerful and popular enough to combat the “German threat” to enhance his musical style in order to combat the gesamtkunstwerk that was causing quite the international stir.  

Manzoni

Alessandro Manzoni, the father of Italian Romanticism

Probably because he was loyal to Ricordi, who controlled much of the Italian operatic enterprise, and because his operas were already considered Italian trademarks, Verdi fought the idea of innovation and remained firmly planted in his Romantic idioms; that is, until his most virilant opposer, Arrigo Boito, composed Mefistofele in 1868.  On its own, Mefistofele is a magnificent opera even if its prima rappresentazione, as documented historically, was one of the greatest fiascos in operatic history, with the entirety of the audience rushing out into the Piazza della Scala after the “Ecco il Mondo” in which the devil stands like a priest in front of his parish of minions and claims control of the world.  Not a very Catholic statement, to say the least, especially in a primarily catholic society.  You can imagine the chaos this caused and it is perhaps more interesting that there were factions in the theatre who were communicating information to underground locations and cafes where “protectors of Verdi’s art” had situated themselves.  Verdi himself was not at the prima, but word got back to him immediately about what happened.  Word also got back to Antonio Ghislanzoni, who had not long before been in a cafe where young artists were making fun of Boito.  Ghislanzoni, who had a profound ability to see beyond the exterior slammed his hand on a table, causing the ruckus in the cafe to stop and proclaimed, “Boito è un genio!!” (Boito is a genius).

What is lesser known is that Boito and his buddies blamed Wagner’s new found supremacy and the supposed stagnant state of Italian opera on Alessandro Manzoni, the man for whom Verdi had the deepest respect.  There are several letters in which Verdi expresses this admiration and perhaps the most important documentation is that of his wife, Giuseppina Strepponi who herself went to meet Manzoni.  She explained how, when Manzoni’s carriage came to pick her up, Verdi turned white and began to perspire, was filled with anxiety and almost fainted, saying he could not meet the man face to face.  He personally felt that Manzoni’s I Promessi Sposi was the greatest artistic contribution anyone had ever made, but yet he never tried to set the novel to music.  Why?  Because he felt that he might fail Manzoni. Although these two giants both lived in the same city, Milano, Manzoni would die and Verdi would never meet the man he revered.

I Promessi SposiThe first edition of Manzoni’s novel, I Promessi Sposi

It is generally known how deeply Manzoni affected the presentation of art and music after the Risorgimento (the Italian Unification), and not only because of the popularity of his novel I Promessi Sposi, which next to Dante’s Divina Commedia stands as the most popular piece of Italian literature.  Prior to, Manzoni had written a manifesto, if you will, that delineated the aesthetics that Italian artists, poets, and musicians, should adhere to in order to keep the arts firmly directed at all that was Italian, thus making sure the arts continued to serve as an exponent of unity in a country that had just found its feet.  Because of his gargantuan status, all artists adhered to Manzoni’s rules, and so many libretti that were set during this period were based only on Italian stories or stories of “la patria,” which is probably why the majority of Verdi’s early works are so politically charged and even if they don’t always depict Italians, they depict Italian unity.  For example, the famous “Va Pensiero” in Nabucco could easily have been performed by a chorus of Italians, rather than Hebrews.

Ecco il Mondo

Mefistofele counteracting Catholic and Romantic sentiments

So, what if when Boito wrote Mefistofele, the devil’s horrific music was meant to be grand statement against Manzoni and, for that matter, against Verdi. Boito’s opera contains many bombastic musical moments and music that is equally horrific and terrifying….until Verdi decided to answer the younger composer and basically shut him up by composing a piece of music that was one hundred times more horrifying.  The Dies Irae, in this regard, would firmly obliterate Boito’s devil who stood to combat Italian melody and Manzoni’s aesthetic suggestions.  It is also a reason why Verdi inserted this new form within the Mass parts.  Therefore, the Messa da Requiem not only commemorates the death of Manzoni and remains a historical tattoo, if you will, that forever imprints Verdi’s devotion to Manzoni on the history of Italian operatic culture, it is also the strongest statement he made against Boito.  That Verdi later worked on the revision of Simon Boccanegra, and composed perhaps the two greatest works of his late period, Otello and Falstaff with Boito is not only fascinating but shocking to say the least.

Boito_e_Verdi

Boito and Verdi

©Mary-Lou Vetere, 2013

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VERDI WEEK on The Last Verista: “Viva Verdi: Celebrating 200 magnificent years of this “Grande Maestro”

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In a time fraught with financial issues and artistic controversies, the opera world welcomes this historically relevant week in anticipation of the 200th Birthday of the great and individual composer, Giuseppe Verdi.  This week on the Last Verista, posts will be dedicated to his music, his life, his thoughts, letters, and those singers and conductors who have spent years perfecting the art of Verdian cantilena.  As opera companies and orchestras the world over prepare their celebratory concerts, Verdi’s week of celebration could not have come at a better time, considering the almost idiotic suggestions about closing opera houses like La Scala Milano.  Perhaps by wafting in the joy of Verdi’s music, those persons running said companies might recall just how poignant and historical La Scala, and opera houses in general, really are.  

verdi e boito

With his, at first, rival and then most fervent companion and colleague, Arrigo Boito

On Met Opera Radio, the entire week is devoted to Verdi operas, so if you have a subscription to Sirius/XM Radio, tune in and if you don’t, this is as good a time as any to cash in on the free 7 day trial.  How great a life was Verdi’s! For all he gave to us, the fact that his operas continue to remain staples in most operatic seasons, and for the luminous melodies and soaring orchestral idioms that sometimes seem metaphysical (of this world and yet seemingly of next) CELEBRAMO! Personally, I stand in reverence and devotion to this great man who, in my line of work, gives me something beautiful every day of my life.  “Gioir!!” “Gioir!!”  “Viva Verdi!”

Verdi Bicentennial Week on Met Opera Radio

Verdi 200th

Don’t miss this week on Met Opera Radio, devoted entirely to Verdi.

 

Monday, October 7, 2013

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6:00 AM ET 9:00 AM ET

12:00 PM ET 3:00 PM ET

6:00 PM ET 9:00 PM ET

Verdi: Rigoletto
2/10/1973-Levine; Wixell, Grist, Pavarotti, Macurdy, Grillo

This Month at the Met
Netrebko, Kwiecien, Radvanovsky, Muhly, Phillips, Leonard, Beczala, Gelb

Verdi: Aida
2/25/1967-Schippers; Price, Bumbry, Bergonzi, Merrill, Hines

Verdi: Un Ballo in Maschera
12/14/1940-Panizza; Milanov, Bjorling, Sved, Castagna, Andreva

Verdi: Otello
10/13/1995-Levine; Domingo, Fleming, Morris, Bunnell, Croft

Verdi: Falstaff
4/6/2002-Levine; Terfel, Mescheriakova, Tilling, Blythe, Turay, Mentzer

 

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Verdi: Simon Boccanegra
1/28/1950-Stiedry; Warren, Varnay, Tucker, Szekely

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6:00 AM ET 9:00 AM ET 12:00 PM ET 3:00 PM ET 7:55 PM ET

Verdi: Il Trovatore
2/4/1961-Cleva; Corelli, Price, Sereni, Dalis, Wilderman

Verdi: La Traviata
1/5/1935-Panizza; Ponselle, Jagel, Tibbett

Verdi: I Lombardi
1/15/1994-Levine; Flanigan, Pavarotti, Beccaria, Plishka

Verdi: Don Carlo
12/23/2006-Levine; Botha, Racette, Hvorostovsky

Shostakovich: The Nose (LIVE FROM THE MET) Gergiev; Szot, Popov, Ognovenko

12:00 AM ET Verdi: Macbeth
2/21/1959-Leinsdorf; Warren, Rysanek, Hines, Bergonzi

 

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

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6:00 AM ET

9:00 AM ET 12:00 PM ET

3:00 PM ET

6:00 PM ET 9:00 PM ET 12:00 AM ET

Verdi: Nabucco
3/24/2001-Levine; Pons, Guleghina, Casanova, Tarassova, Ramey

Verdi: I Vespri Siciliani
3/9/1974-Levine; Caballé, Gedda, Milnes, Díaz

Verdi: La Forza del Destino
3/12/1977-Levine; Price, Domingo, MacNeil, Talvela, Elias, Capecchi

This Month at the Met
Netrebko, Kwiecien, Radvanovsky, Muhly, Phillips, Leonard, Beczala, Gelb

Verdi: Rigoletto
2/10/1973-Levine; Wixell, Grist, Pavarotti, Macurdy, Grillo

Verdi: Aida
2/25/1967-Schippers; Price, Bumbry, Bergonzi, Merrill, Hines

Verdi: Un Ballo in Maschera
12/14/1940-Panizza; Milanov, Bjorling, Sved, Castagna, Andreva

 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

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6:00 AM ET 9:00 AM ET

12:00 PM ET 3:00 PM ET

Verdi: Otello
10/13/1995-Levine; Domingo, Fleming, Morris, Bunnell, Croft

Verdi: Falstaff
4/6/2002-Levine; Terfel, Mescheriakova, Tilling, Blythe, Turay, Mentzer

Verdi: Simon Boccanegra
1/28/1950-Stiedry; Warren, Varnay, Tucker, Szekely

Verdi: Il Trovatore

6:00 PM ET 9:00 PM ET 12:00 AM ET

2/4/1961-Cleva; Corelli, Price, Sereni, Dalis, Wilderman

Verdi: La Traviata
1/5/1935-Panizza; Ponselle, Jagel, Tibbett

Verdi: I Lombardi
1/15/1994-Levine; Flanigan, Pavarotti, Beccaria, Plishka

Verdi: Don Carlo
12/23/2006-Levine; Botha, Racette, Hvorostovsky

 

Friday, October 11, 2013

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6:00 AM ET

9:00 AM ET 12:00 PM ET 3:00 PM ET

6:00 PM ET 7:25 PM ET

12:00 AM ET

Verdi: La Forza del Destino
3/12/1977-Levine; Price, Domingo, MacNeil, Talvela, Elias, Capecchi

Verdi: Macbeth
2/21/1959-Leinsdorf; Warren, Rysanek, Hines, Bergonzi

Verdi: Rigoletto
2/10/1973-Levine; Wixell, Grist, Pavarotti, Macurdy, Grillo

Verdi: Nabucco
3/24/2001-Levine; Pons, Guleghina, Casanova, Tarassova, Ramey

This Month at the Met
Netrebko, Kwiecien, Radvanovsky, Muhly, Phillips, Leonard, Beczala, Gelb

Britten: A Midsummer Night’s Dream (SEASON PREMIERE – LIVE FROM THE MET)
Conlon; Kim, Davies, M. Rose, Kaiser, DeShong, Simpson, Wall, Costello

Verdi: I Vespri Siciliani
3/9/1974-Levine; Caballé, Gedda, Milnes, Díaz

 

Saturday, October 12, 2013

6:00 AM ET Verdi: Aida
2/25/1967-Schippers; Price, Bumbry, Bergonzi, Merrill, Hines

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9:00 AM ET

12:00 PM ET 3:00 PM ET

6:00 PM ET 9:00 PM ET 12:00 AM ET

Verdi: Un Ballo in Maschera
12/14/1940-Panizza; Milanov, Bjorling, Sved, Castagna, Andreva

Verdi: Otello
10/13/1995-Levine; Domingo, Fleming, Morris, Bunnell, Croft

Verdi: Falstaff
4/6/2002-Levine; Terfel, Mescheriakova, Tilling, Blythe, Turay, Mentzer

Verdi: Simon Boccanegra
1/28/1950-Stiedry; Warren, Varnay, Tucker, Szekely

Verdi: Il Trovatore
2/4/1961-Cleva; Corelli, Price, Sereni, Dalis, Wilderman

This Month at the Met
Netrebko, Kwiecien, Radvanovsky, Muhly, Phillips, Leonard, Beczala, Gelb

 

Sunday, October 13, 2013

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6:00 AM ET 9:40 AM ET 12:00 PM ET 3:00 PM ET 6:00 PM ET 9:00 PM ET 12:00 AM ET

Verdi: Don Carlo
12/23/2006-Levine; Botha, Racette, Hvorostovsky

Verdi: I Lombardi
1/15/1994-Levine; Flanigan, Pavarotti, Beccaria, Plishka

Verdi: La Traviata
1/5/1935-Panizza; Ponselle, Jagel, Tibbett

Carnegie Hall Concert
Levine; DiDonato, MET Orchestra

Verdi: Macbeth
2/21/1959-Leinsdorf; Warren, Rysanek, Hines, Bergonzi

The Met on Record: Verdi: Luisa Miller (1991)
Levine; Millo, Domingo, Chernov, Quivar, Plishka, Rootering

Verdi: La Forza del Destino
3/12/1977-Levine; Price, Domingo, MacNeil, Talvela, Elias, Capecchi

A Petite History of the Critical Review and Recent Perspectives about the Met Opera Season

James Jordan

Fabulous and Renown Opera Critic and Aficionado, James Jorden

It’s always interesting to read various reviews about opera performances and even more interesting to see the contrasting opinions of different reviewers.  The Critical Review has been a subject of controversy and yet an aspect of historical record in the music world since the mid 1800s when Hector Berlioz and Robert Schumann began reviewing concerts.  More related to my own area of Italian Opera in Verdi and Puccini’s time, critical reviews became part of the historically legacy of the period, and composers like Amilcare Ponchielli and Arrigo Boito were two who remained fervently devoted to the accurate retelling of a musical event.

Hector Berlioz     Robert Schumann

Where the Metropolitan Opera is concerned, of note the leading opera house in North America, the “Big Three” news sources that are looked  to for critical reviews are:  The New York Times, The New York Post, and The New York Observer.  External to this, I believe that the Washington Post is the next most highly considered.  Why these papers?  It’s not just that these are based in New York and so they are devoted to what exciting events are taking place at their hometown opera house, it’s because of the critics who write the reviews.  The most prominent being:  Anthony Tommasini of the New York Times, Vivienne Schweitzer of the New York Times, Zachary Woolfe of the New York Times and New York Observer, James Jorden of the New York Post and New York Observer, Alex Ross of the New Yorker Magazine, and Anne Midgette of the Washington Post.

Amilcare Ponchielli

Amilcare Ponchielli

Arrigo Boito

 Arrigo Boito

What is controversial about the opera review is that it relies heavily on the musical and historical knowledge of the reviewer but also their own personal tastes and so when you’re seeking an understanding of what went on in a performance, it’s probably a good idea to consult more than one review just to balance out the varying opinions.  Reviewers are human beings and like us, they have personal preferences.  Each one has their own manner of reviewing, their own language of discussion, their own syntax, their own flavour–if you will, and the art of opera singing and performance has been linked to these diverse tastes both in the past and today.

My inspiration to talk about reviewing was James Jorden’s recent article in the New York Observer, and while I could have chosen any of the above mentioned critics because they are all wonderful, I chose Mr. Jorden’s review because I personally like his style and the honesty with which he relays his opinions, which I find to be based on a fervent knowledge of singing, historical performance practice, and just plain love of this art.  It is in no offence to any other critic.  Mr. Jorden reviewed the recent events that transpired in the Met’s opening week and I found his assessment refreshing and honest.  Please read his review below by clicking the link.

My own personal opinion on the occurrences of the past week (which has nothing to do with Mr. Jorden’s article or his own opinion) is this:  I think that the problem with opera singing today, and I’m not perfect by any means as a singer (but I sure try to stay close to what is authentic from a historical standpoint), is that we sometimes lose track of what the vocal fachs were when these operas were written and the kinds of voices that were meant to sing them.  It’s very obvious in today’s current climate that voices are not being produced like the voices of the past, especially where intelligibility of the text is concerned, or rather more, attention to the vowel.  When I listen to singers like Mafalda Favero or Tito Schipa, or Caruso even, EVERY word is understood without having the score in front of your face, rather than the fluttering and sustaining of lines via a quick vibrato rather than on the vowel, sul fiato that is more prominent today.  In my opinion, several performances have become unintelligible. Callas used to say, “Speak the text…go around and speak it everywhere.” Ponselle, used to hum everything in the front of her masque in perfectly placed position, and then she would explode that sound into ravishing colour on stage.  What did Callas mean when she said, “speak it?”  She did not mean trill it out and just keep fluttering away on a line that is disengaged from a vowel.  Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but I think opera has a message and that message is in the story, in the word, enveloped by a beautiful voice that vibrates like a perfectly tuned violin.  To me, it is the expression of that text that is the heart’s blood of opera.  I just wish that this was a greater priority today.

And huge huge respect to Maestro Levine whose return to the podium brought tears to my eyes.  From the first two chords of Cosi Fan Tutte, one heard the Met Orchestra of old.  He is a master and knows how to steer that beast of an orchestra like an expert.  We have missed him and I’m so happy for his return and continued good health.  Bravi tutti, singers, conductors, and critics alike.

Levine

“Onegin’s Opening Night: Anna, Norma, and a Giant Nose: Protesters Stole the Opening Night of Onegin…But No One Can Take the Met Away From James Levine” by James Jorden (New York Observer)

Verdi’s Don Carlo to Open at La Scala on October 12

teatro-alla-scala

Conductors: Fabio Luisi, Piergiorgio Morandi

Staging and sets: Stéphane Braunschweig

Costumes: Thibaut Van Craenenbroeck

Lights: Marion Hewlett

PapeRene Pape as Filippo

Kocan

Stefan Kocan alternates as Fillippo and Il Grande Inquisitore

Filippo II, re di Spagna:  René Pape (12, 16, 19, 23, 26), Stefan Kocán (29)

Don Carlo, Infante di Spagna: Fabio Sartori

Rodrigo, Marchese di Posa: Massimo Cavalletti

Il Grande Inquisitore, cieco nonagenario: Štefan Kocán (12, 16, 19, 23, 26), Rafal Siwek (29)

Un frate: Fernando Rado

Elisabetta di Valois: Martina Serafin

La Principessa d’Eboli: Ekaterina Gubanova

Tebaldo, paggio d’Elisabetta: Barbara Lavarian

Il Conte di Lerma: Carlos Cardoso

Un araldo reale: Carlo Bosi

Voce dal cielo: Roberta Salvati

Deputati fiamminghi: Ernesto Panariello, Simon Lim, Davide Pelissero, Filippo Polinelli, Federico Sacchi, Luciano Montanaro

Link to Don Carlo at the Teatro alla Scala

Metropolitan Opera: A Midsummer Night’s Dream Broadcast Live Saturday, October 11th

Midsummer

 

ConductorJames Conlon
TytaniaKathleen Kim
HelenaErin Wall
HermiaElizabeth DeShong
OberonIestyn Davies
LysanderJoseph Kaiser
DemetriusMichael Todd Simpson
BottomMatthew Rose
PuckRiley Costello

Midsummer

 

Kathleen Kim

 

Coloratura Soprano, Kathleen Kim is Tytania

Click here to Listen Live

Levine and Cosi Fan Tutte LIVE BROADCAST Tonight: Listen Live

COSI-articleLarge

Listen live to Levine’s return to the Met Podium.

Live broadcast begins at 7:25pm and can be heard by clicking below or on Sirius/XM Radio on The Met Opera Channel

 

Danielle de niese

Danielle De Niese as Despina

ConductorJames Levine
FiordiligiSusanna Phillips
DorabellaIsabel Leonard
DespinaDanielle de Niese
FerrandoMatthew Polenzani
GugliemoRodion Pogossov
Don AlfonsoMaurizio Muraro

Levine

Click here to LISTEN LIVE from the MET