What’s up at the Met this Week? Verdi and some more of “The Bat”


Ambrogio Maestri as Verdi’s Buffone Tragico, “Falstaff”

Ma Ride Ben Chi Ride la Risata Final: Verdi and the Fusion of Genres

         Tutto nel mondo é burla. 
          L’uom é nato burlone, 
          La fede in cor gli ciurla, 
          Gli ciurla la ragione. 
          Tutti gabbati! Irride 
          L’un l’altro ogni mortal. 
          Ma ride ben chi ride 
          La risata final.

Final text from the Libretto of “Falstaff”

FalstaffFalstaff:  to end with a comedy

When I first started studying Verdi’s operas, I for some strange reason steered away from Falstaff.  When you’re a teenager, you think you know what you’re doing, so I decided it would be a good idea to read through the synopsis of the operas and see which one I wanted to listen to next, without any sort of regard for when those works were written and which period they belonged to.  For whatever reason, the idea of Falstaff did not interest me, which is ironic since it is one of the operas I most devoted my time two during my PhD studies. At the time, learning the repertoire meant immersing myself in the larger-than-life stories, the dramatic largess of the characters, and the fabulously delicious unhappy endings that many of the operas culminated in.  Again…a teenager.  The idea of listening to a comedy by Verdi…not so interesting….or so I thought.

To end with a comedy:

After the multitude of operas Verdi wrote that were based on everything from “la patria” to “figlia mia,” the very notion that he ended with a comedy is not only a significant statement, but a cause for historians to look at Falstaff more closely.  Furthermore, that he collaborated on the opera with his one-time rival, Arrigo Boito is incredibly telling.  Earlier in their massive correspondence, Verdi had written “There is no place in Italian Music for Germanic forms.” By this he meant the more symphonic idioms that Boito had been promoting in and around Milano, such as the fugue.  Boito had used a Fuga Infernale in Mefistofele but later abandoned the idea in order to make his opera more conventional and acceptable.  That Verdi ended his illustrious career with a Fugue is fascinating to say the least.

What is more, the final text, as written above, suggests that in composing Falstaff, Verdi got the last laugh.  What does this mean, exactly?  The way I see it, after assessing much of the musico-political situation in Milano, Verdi was powerful, but more powerful than him was Giulio Ricordi and the Ricordi Enterprise, who had often made specific and well-known commentary to composers like Giacomo Puccini to “write in the Italian way,” or else–so to speak.  Both primary and secondary documents describe how very involved Ricordi was with the composition of operas in Italy after the Risorgimento and especially with those composers who were the highest regarded in his company.  It is very likely that Ricordi, in addition to the censors, had placed constraints on Verdi, and it seemed as though Verdi continued to compose traditionally until the Messa da Requiem and Aida.  His late period of works, then are more interesting musicologically than this earlier works because of the shift in compositional style to a more through-composed one, but Falstaff–a comedy that ends with a fugue, is probably the most vividly different than anything Verdi had composed before and makes one wonder what he might have composed next.


Giulio Ricordi

The Fusion of Genres

During my studies I came across a seminal article by historian Piero Weiss entitled, “Verdi and the Fusion of Genres,” published in the Journal of the American Musicological Society (vol. 35/1) Spring 1982, pp. 138-156, that not only caught my attention but illuminated several mysterious aspects of Verdi’s compositional impetus.  Weiss describes how as early as Luisa Miller, Verdi had desired to bring comedy into his operas.  Weiss quotes a statement of Verdi’s on the subject:

Prolonged experience has confirmed me in the ideas I’ve always had concerning theatrical effect, although in my first years I had not the courage to manifest them, except in part. (For instance, I shouldn’t have risked writing Rigoletto ten years ago.) I find our opera2errs on the side of excessive monotony, so much so that today I should refuse to set such subjects as Nabucco,Foscari,etc. etc. They present dramatic moments of great interest, but no variety. They harp on only one string, a lofty one, if you like, yet always the same one. To make my meaning clearer: Tasso’s poem may possibly be better, but I much, much prefer Ariosto. For the same reason I prefer Shakespeare to all other dramatists, not excepting the Greeks. It seems to me the best subject I have set to music so far, from the point of view of effect (I don’t at all mean to allude to its literary or poetic merit), is Rigoletto.It has very powerful situations, variety, verve, pathos. (Alessandro Pascolato, ed., Re Lear e Ballo in maschera: lettere di Giuseppe Verdi ad 

Antonio Somma (Citta’di Castello, 1902), pp. 45-46).



It is not new to historians that Verdi had a fascination for Shakespeare, who often infused moments of comic relief in his tragedies and vice-versa, but of course the fusion of genres was not allowed in post-Risorgimento Italy.  For Verdi, the notion of combing comedy and tragedy made the subject matter more “human,” more “realistic,” however it appears that he was not able to effect this as he wished to. Interestingly, his idol, Alessandro Manzoni was the one who promoted the separation of genres and so had Verdi veered from what was “acceptable” it would have meant going against the idiomatic practices of his idol.When Verdi wrote Macbeth, according to Weiss, he modelled it exactly on Shakespeare’s, except for one very important detail.  “

The one moment of comedy in the play, the Porter’s scene, was omitted as a matter of course, coming immediately after the knocking of the gate, it probably would have stopped the opera dead in its tracks.” (Weiss, 142).

And what of the character of Rigoletto, is he not a jester?  In essence he is, however, Rigoletto never once sings comic music.  His “La Ra La Ra’s” are not comedic.  They descend in a minor pattern, and indicate his strife more than his comic thrust.


More fascinating is the notion that the separation of genres affected Verdi’s composing of King Lear.  There has been much discussion about the “discarded” opera and in lieu of Verdi’s struggles against the censors and especially with this issue, he could not possibly have gotten away with writing an opera whose main character is “a fool,” without crossing lines that he was not yet willing to cross.  One wonders what King Lear would have sounded like.


Taking these details into consideration, it is even more amazing that Verdi ended his operatic smorgasbord with a comedy.  It’s almost like someone is a vegetarian their entire life and then on their last day, they decide to eat meat.  Fascinating indeed, but then Verdi was not a typical man.  He was a man of great determination and in the end, he certainly got his last laugh.  VIVA VERDI!!!

Enjoy the complete opera “Falstaff”

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


Conductors: Fabio Luisi, Piergiorgio Morandi

Staging and sets: Stéphane Braunschweig

Costumes: Thibaut Van Craenenbroeck

Lights: Marion Hewlett

PapeRene Pape as Filippo


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

Vetere To Present “Boito’s Code: Solving the Secrets of the “Scapigliati” and Revealing the Language of Chaos”

Boito: An under-rated genius

On April 30-May 1st the New York/St. Lawrence Chapter Meeting of the American Musicological Society will hold its annual conference a Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario.  For the first time, Dr. Vetere will be presenting a portion of her research on Boito and the seemingly miscontrued enigmatic movement, the Scapigliatura.  Proving elemental to Italian opera and its development in the nineteenth-century, the Scapigliatura has received little attention in musicology, where Verismo has been more readily examined.  Dr. Vetere is attempting to re-define the Scapigliatura’s presence in history and its artistic value as an independent movement based on its own set of aesthetic principles and motives between Verdi and Verismo.  Her paper, “Boito’s Code: Solving the Secrets of the Scapigliati and Revealing the Language of Chaos” will be given on Sunday, May 1st at 10:40am.


Scapigliatura Entry in Wikipedia with Dr. Vetere’s Contribution

Boito and Verdi

Click here for the conference programClick the link above to access the Chapter Website

A Big Feat…A Devoted heart….A Long Time Coming.

If you’ve been following my blog, you’ll have noticed that as of late, posts have been few and far between.  The reason has nothing to do with a lack of interest lately, but more to do with a profound experience that has been the culmination of a very long journey for me.  On May 4th, 2010, I successfully defended my Ph.D dissertation, “Italian Opera from Verdi to Verismo: Boito and “La Scapigliatura.” For the last 13 years of my life, I have devoted myself to the letters, works, and operas of several important composers, namely Giuseppe Verdi, Arrigo Boito, and Giacomo Puccini, and although I have been researching and writing for approximately five years, I had not anticipated that defending my work would be so emotional.  As I spoke about my 600 + page manuscript, at one moment I could strangely hear myself talking and wondering, “Who is talking? Is this me?”  The voice was filled with passion and fire and vibrancy.  At that moment, I felt that I might have converted any non-opera loving person to the other side, just by the sheer determination in my voice.  And, all for the love of opera.

Verdi and Boito

I recalled that the first post on this blog displayed a picture of Indiana Jones.  In effect, the research I conducted was not much different than that presented in the third movie of that series, “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,” where Indiana takes on his father’s passionate search for the Holy Grail by using a diary filled with clues that required decoding.  Who would have thought that Italian Opera would present a similar situation?  The point I wish to make is that the study of music history, although some might think it to be tedious or even boring, is just as exciting as any action movie.  It is also what leads us to maintain an authentic, appropriate, and most of all, a respectful manner of performance practice that is based on the wishes and direction of the composers whose works we are so compelled to sing, perform, or conduct. It is my hope that young music students continue to study history and use it as a foundation for whatever musical discipline they are devoted to. As musicians the path to a fundamental happiness and success can only be achieved by hard work and devotion, but let us not forget that love for music and art play a significant role.  For those of us who remain devoted…a world of wonder awaits.

Published in: on May 17, 2010 at 5:22 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Reviews on Verdi’s “Attila” at the Metropolitan Opera

Recent Reviews

Seen and Heard: International Opera Review (Bernard Jacobson)

Opera Review: Verdi’s “Attila” makes belated debut at New York’s Metropolitan Opera (Scott Cantrell, Dallas Morning News)

Anne Midgette Reviews Verdi’s “Attila” from the MET (Washington Post)

Verdi’s “Attila” (David Laviska, Musical Criticism.com)

A scene from the Met’s 2010 production of Verdi’s “Attila”

Published in: on March 9, 2010 at 4:50 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , , ,

February’s Singer of the Month: Renata Tebaldi

The glorious one with the voice of an angel:  Renata Tebaldi

One of the most beautiful Italian voices ever to grace the stage, Renata Tebaldi was born in Pesaro on February 1, 1922.  In memory of Madama Tebaldi’s birthday, having fallen just a few days ago, I decided to implement a new section to this blog called, “Singer of the Month.”  It is only appropriate, knowing my devotion to the old-school and to Italianante singing, that Renata Tebaldi be the first singer featured in this new section.  Every month, I will select a singer or artist of the past or present who has contributed their talents to the field of opera, in one way or another.

Tebaldi was one of those voices that is unforgettable.  Madama’s voice was liquid, lush, filled with vibrancy, with a burnished middle voice, a magnificent upper range, and the power of a hundred chariots.  Her charisma and musicianship combined with her God-given gift, not only made her famous in her day, she remains a true example for any young singer who wants to understand what the “real deal” is.

She studied at the Conservatorio di Musica Arrigo Boito, in Parma with Carmen Mellis and made her debut in 1944 in Arrigo Boito’s “Mefistofele” as Elena. In 1946, when La Scala reopened, she partook in that concert under Toscanini’s baton and subsequently sang Mimi and Eva in the 1946-47 season. From 1949-1954, she sang regularly at La Scala in roles such as:  Maddalena in Andrea Chenier, Tosca, Adriana Lecouvreur, Desdemona in Otello, and La Wally.  She soon made debuts in London and in San Francisco as Aida.  In 1955, she became a prima at the Metropolitan Opera, where she remained for 20 years.

Tebaldi’s voice was capable of nearly anything.  Not only did she perform the “lirico spinto” repertoire, she also delved into such roles as Cleopatra in Handel’s Giulio Cesare, Spontini’s Olympia, and Verdi’s Giovanna D’Arco, showing a tremendous versatility and range.  Her Forza del Destino is the stuff of legend and I, of course, have a personal devotion to her understanding of Puccini’s repertoire, most specifically Minnie in La Fanciulla del West, and Mimi in La Boheme; not to mention Angelica in Suor Angelica.

If you’ve never watched or seen, or heard her, for that matter, WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR!? Her elegance, her mannerisms–a true lady–the way in which she used her hands, the beauty of her persona were all aspects that made La Tebaldi what she was, an artist of true value. Her voice lingers in one’s mind and heart, and her’s is a historical lexicon of recordings that we as operagoers, historians, and afficionados must make sure to preserve and introduce to those too young to have known about her.  On this anniversary of her birth, on behalf of all who loved her and continue to, “Madama, we remember…we can never forget and we fight that your legacy continue, that your art, as you saw it and understood it so intimately, be preserved as it were, now and always.  In grand devotion, we thank you.  Grazie mille, Brava!”

Elegance personified: a true diva, private, respectful of her art, and authentic

Aprile Millo Celebrates 25 Years with the Opera Orchestra of New York

DON’T MISS this exceptional and historical evening.  To purchase tickets click the link below

MilloLa Profonda:  Aprile Millo

The grand diva with the golden voice is giving her 25th anniversary recital with the Opera Orchestra of New York, on November 17th, 2009 at 8pm at the Frederick P. Rose Recital Hall in the home of Jazz at Lincoln Centre.  This recital proves to be a magical, historic, and elegant evening, with a few surprises and Ms. Millo’s absolute devotion to her art, which to her represents a sacred vocation.  The first time I personally heard Ms. Millo, she was portraying Verdi’s Aida.  It was a voice I have never ever forgotten and one to which I have always felt a particular affinity.  This is a voice that comes along once in a lifetime.  Her golden voice is made up of the best attributes of her predecessors, Claudia Muzio, Rosa Ponselle, and Renata Tebaldi, and her technique is one that is firmly cemented in pure and unadulterated Bel Canto lyricism.  Combine this with Ms. Millo’s devotion to her art and the combination is almost too emotional for human consumption.  In a phrase, she is a living, breathing, musical vessel, one that anyone who loves opera, voices, or music should experience.  She is a true artist in the most fundamental sense of the word and her voice is a gift to us all.  There is no question that we are lucky to have her in our midst, as we were lucky to have Mr. Pavarotti, and all of the other greats who contributed so profoundly to this art.

On a personal note, I have never had the pleasure of hearing Ms. Millo in live performance, and so this first time I’m hearing her is also the first time I’m performing with her at a public venue, as such.  I am graciously honoured and humbled to be a guest artist on this important event.  With all of the respect I have for this artist, personally and professionally, there are no words to express how excited I am to be experiencing this.  I hope you’ll come and experience it with me.

Aprile Millo was a wunderkind.  She possessed this voice of almost unnatural beauty since she could walk.  When she sings, the room, the hall, vibrates with an energy that you can only understand if you have been enveloped by this voice.  It is one of those great voices that will go down in the history books for the rest of eternity.  One of the most accurate and definitive Italian voices ever, with an ability to sing recitativo like no one else, with a sense of punto di linea that I think some of us have forgotten is “inherent” in this music, and it lives in one of the kindest and most generous of individuals. Ms. Millo has won accolades the world over.  Please join me in this magnificent evening, celebrating one of the greatest artists this world has ever known.  My hat goes off to you, Signora.  The greats who are no longer with us will all be there celebrating with you.  From my heart to yours, auguri!

Purchase tickets HERE.

Aprile as Aida

Millo’s vocal beauty and technical prowess were unparalleled in Verdi’s “Aida”

Saturday Afternoon at the Opera with Bill Richardson, featuring Mary-Lou Vetere


Boito and Verdi

Boito, Verdi, and the music in my heart…..

Click here to listen to the interview.

October 17, 2009

Opera:  Simon Boccanegra from the Vienna Staatsoper

Mary-Lou will be featured on Saturday Afternoon at the Opera with Bill Richardson on October 17th.


On October 17th, 2009 CBC Radio II will be hosting Saturday Afternoon at the Opera (hosted by Bill Richardson).  Mary-Lou Vetere will be a guest on the Broadcast of Verdi’s opera, “Simon Boccanegra” with libretto by Arrigo Boito.  She will be discussing opera, her research, and accordions.  Tune in to 94.1 or get the widget for CBC RADIO at http://www.widgetbox.com/widget/podcasts-cbc-radio and listen live.

Bill Richardson

Bill Richardson of Saturday Afternoon at the Opera