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Volume 19 Issue 2 - October 2013

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Born october 10, 1813,

Born october 10, 1813, Verdi was, in a word, theright man for the right time. Italy had been a verymusical nation from time immemorial. As early as the16th century opera was “invented” by an Italian, Monteverdi,albeit in a primitive form, but it continued to bedeveloped by a succession of composers who glorifiedthe singing voice through a style called “bel canto.” Bythe early 19th century there were masters like Bellini andDonizetti and countless lesser composers, now forgotten,who became great celebrities providing the finest musicaltheatre entertainment the Italian public craved. Theywere followed by Gioachino Rossini, a musical wunderkindwho took the helm and became enormously richwith some 60 very successful operas. However, afterthe death of his wife in 1845, Rossini retired from theopera scene, Bellini was dead and Donizetti in an insaneasylum, so there was a vacuum ready to be filled. And itwas this country boy, this Giuseppe Verdi who filled it.Not all were big successes, but Verdi always tried somethingnew and different and even his worst effort wasbetter than some other composers’ best. By 1847 he wasready to tackle Shakespeare whose plays he had admiredsince childhood. For Florence he wrote Macbeth basedon the play but with much more complex characters andthe misty, ghost-ridden milieu of Scotland, altogether anew challenge for Verdi. Although he succeeded withwonderful music well-adapted to his characters andtheir obsessed ambition and murderous cruelty, especiallywith Lady Macbeth, the star soprano, Italians werenot ready for the opera, nor even for Shakespeare’s playsat this time. But Verdi was not concerned. By then he hadbigger fish to fry.An appreciation by Janos GardonyiWho was GiuseppeVerdi and whatmakes him unique anddifferent from that otherfellow born in the sameyear of 1813 — RichardWagner? Verdi was fromItalian peasant stock andtherefore strong, healthy,tough and stubborn,and lived a long life of88 years (unlike Wagnerwho was plagued withill health throughout hislife and died before theage of 70). This toughness,coupled with greatambition, enormoustalent, almost boundlessenergy and shrewd businessacumen, enabledhim to write ten operasin just seven years, onefor each major operahouse in Italy; and bythe age of 40 he becamethe talk of his nation,rich and respected. Hewas also a pleasant manwho was kind to hisparents and his wife,but also a bit shy andwary of publicity. He wasno egotist, womanizeror debt-ridden spendthriftlike Wagner, butrather a patriot and greatsupporter of a unifiedItaly who shared hiswealth generously andwas charitable to theless fortunate.He started from nothing. A barefoot little boy, a selftaughtchurch organist in his village of Le Roncole,near Busseto in the Duchy of Parma, Northern Italy, hewas viciously kicked down a flight of stairs by a priest.Aching in body and soul he never forgot this incident andremained suspicious of the clergy all his life. Later, whenhe applied to the Conservatory of Milan he was promptlyrejected. Verdi never forgave the Conservatory; in fact,when much later the elders of the school tried to changeits name to Giuseppe Verdi, he would not allow it. Hisfirst success grew out of a life-shattering tragedy, somethingthat would have destroyed a lesser man: losing hiswife and two children in quick succession. Providencehowever intervened and in 1842 the enormous successof his third opera for La Scala of Milan, Nabucco (see listof recommended recordings below) instantly made hisname. Nabucco was altogether new, fresh and bold witha melodic richness never heard before and a subject withwhich the public could identify. The immortal chorus“Va pensiero!” became an unofficial national anthem.Verdi at 29 was on his way. La Scala had a winner andwouldn’t let him loose. The next year I Lombardi wasan even bigger success.Now, at this time there was no such thing as Italy. Thepeninsula was scattered with city states dating back tothe Middle Ages, all of them under the foreign dominationof Austria and France. Nevertheless, each had anopera house of architectural splendour, the pride andjoy of the populace, where no expense was spared. Verdiquickly realized that he had to conquer each and everyone of them to be considered a success in the eyes of hisnation. The first step was Venice in 1844, with La Fenice,an opera house that surpassed even La Scala. The operawas Ernani, based on a Victor Hugo play with a tempestuouslove quadrangle among three men (tenor, baritone,bass) fighting for a woman. Verdi struck gold again withthis red-blooded opera throbbing with passionate ariasand ensembles full of beautiful melodies, plus somerousing choruses. The Venetians loved it. Thus began aperiod Verdi later referred to as his Galley Years, crisscrossingthe peninsula– Rome, Naples, doubling back toMilan, Trieste, a new work for each, at least one per year.While Verdi was working with the Grand Opera inParis in 1848, revolutions broke out all over Europe,reached Milan and Rome and the grand patriotic movementcalled the Risorgimento (Resurgence) began inearnest. The story goes that Verdi’s name soon becamean acronym and a rallying cry (although some recentresearch views this as apocryphal): Vittorio EmanueleRe D’Italia, based on the name of the King of Piemonte(Piedmont), the only state that was independent at thetime, in whom the Italians laid their hope for a unitedItaly. The prime minister of Piemonte was Count Cavour,a brilliant statesman who became the architect of a long,laborious process that finally succeeded around 1865.Verdi was nowhere near the fighting since he was notsuited to be a foot-soldier, but supplied a rousing, patrioticopera instead, La Battaglia di Legnano, perfect forthe occasion, for Rome in 1849. It was earth-shatteringlysuccessful. Although the movement failed at this time, allthe excitement must have given the composer new inspirationbecause he scored a triple whammy with three newoperas written in a quick succession, all masterpieces.Rigoletto (Venice 1851), Il Trovatore (Rome 1853) and LaTraviata (Venice 1854) suddenly crystallized his style andhis experimentation (including his trials and errors) intoa brilliant new synthesis where everything just clicked.Verdi was on the road to world fame.All of Europe wanted him now and he soon becamevery wealthy, but he was shrewd and invested his moneywisely. Thinking of his retirement, he bought a largeproperty at St. Agate in the countryside of his birthplaceand started farming, his favourite hobby. He alsobuilt a manor house where he settled with his newlywedded wife, a beautiful opera star, the soprano GiuseppinaStrepponi, his steady companion since his years inMilan. As the world took notice, orders were pouringin. First for Paris he wrote Les vêpres siciliennes (1855,translated to Italian as I Vespri Siciliani in 1861), a grandopera with ballet, over five hours long. Then back toVenice with Simon Boccanegra (1857), a searing dramaof a Genoese Doge of lowly origins and the murderousinfighting between social classes ending with the tragicassassination of the hero. This | continued on page 6810 | October 1 – November 7, 2013 thewholenote.com

1314 .season of eventsUTSODavid Briskin conducts the U of TSymphony Orchestra in works byGrieg, Nielsen, Vaughan Williamsand Britten.thUrsday, october 37:30 PM, MacMillan theatreMartinScherzingerkenneth Peacock visitorGradUate colloQUiUMthUrsday, october 103:30 PM, rooM 130. freeU of T WindSymphonyFeaturing works by Wagner,Applebaum, Dello Joio and others.friday, october 117:30 PM, MacMillan theatreUTJOGordon Foote directs the U of TJazz Orchestra in concert withsaxophonist Mike Murley, markingthe launch of the UTJO’s new CD.thUrsday, october 247:30 PM, walter hall. freeFilm Screening:A Late QuartetAdmission with the Oct 28 BrentanoQuartet concert ticket.friday, october 257:00 PM, walter hallCelebratingAlice ParkerU of T and guest choirs performthe works of Alice Parker.sUnday, october 273:00 PM, MacMillan theatreBrentanoString QuartetFeaturing Beethoven’s Opp. 95and 131 quartets.Monday, october 287:00 PM, walter hallMusic CareConferencesatUrday, noveMber 9edward Johnson bUildinGinfo: 905-852-2499www.musiccareconference.caNimmons N’90A musical bash to celebrate the 90 thbirthday of Phil Nimmons, featuringthe UTJO, David Braid and Nimmons.thUrsday, noveMber 147:30 PM, walter halladMission by donation’Vijay IyerThe Grammy-nominated composer/pianist/bandleader is the Wilma andClifford Smith Visitor in MusicthUrsday, noveMber 217:30 PM, walter hall. freePutu EvieSuyadnyani andVaughan HatchWorld Music Visitors in ConcertthUrsday, noveMber 257:30 PM, walter hall. freeOpera:Don PasqualeFaculty of Music PremierenoveMber 28-30, 7:30 PMdeceMber 1, 2:30 PMMacMillan theatreweston faMily box office416.408.0208The Faculty of Music gratefully acknowledges the generous support of our presenting sponsors.University of toronto, facUlty of MUsic, 80 QUeen’s Park. www.MUsic.Utoronto.ca

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