The presenter is nauseating, but the song “Verdi cries” by Natalie Merchant is interesting.
The man in 119 takes his tea alone.
Mornings we all rise to wireless Verdi cries.
I’m hearing opera through the door.
The souls of men and women, impassioned all.
Their voices climb and fall; battle trumpets call.
I fill the bath and climb inside, singing…
Verdi died in Milano on 27 January 1901. He had suffered a stroke on 21 January in his apartments at the Grand Hôtel.
Arrigo Boito described Verdi’s death to Camille Bellaigue in a beautiful letter:
Verdi is dead; he has carried away with him an enormous measure of light and warmth. We had all basked in the sunshine of that Olympian old age.
He died magnificently, like a fighter, formidable and mute. The silence of death had fallen over him a week before he died.
Do you know the admirable bust by Gemito? That bust, made forty years ago, is the exact image of the Maestro as he was on the fourth day before the end. With head bowed on his breast and knitted brows he looked downwards and seemed to weigh with his glance an unknown and formidable adversary…
His resistance was heroic. The breathing of his great chest sustained him for four days and three nights. On the fourth night the sound of his breathing still filled the room, but the fatigue… Poor Maestro, how brave and handsome he was, up to the last moment! No matter; the old reaper went off with his scythe well battered.
My dear friend, in the course of my life I have lost those I have idolized, and grief has outlasted resignation. But never have I experienced such a feeling of hatred against death, of contempt for that mysterious, blind, stupid, triumphant, and craven power. It needed the death of this octogenarian to arouse those feelings in me.
He, too, hated it, for he was the most powerful expression of life that it is possible to imagine.
Verdi’s first funeral on 30 January was simple, in accordance with his wishes: “two priests, two candles, one cross.” He wanted no flowers, so his adopted daughter Maria Carrara Verdi and her daughter Peppina placed palm fronds in his coffin. Mary Jane Phillips-Matz tells us that a second-class hearse transported his remains. Verdi may have gone to eternal rest with the score of the Te Deum beneath the pillow in his coffin; this was family tradition.
Some of the earliest surviving Italian film footage documents his state funeral on 27 February 1901, when his remains and those of Giuseppina were moved to the crypt of the Casa di riposo, where we can pay our respects to them today. (The crypt is always my very first stop whenever I visit Milano.)
There is a YouTube clip of an elderly Milanese lady who saw Verdi’s funeral as a little girl.
It is said that a country priest sent a telegram to the Grand Hôtel upon learning of Verdi’s death. It read: La Vergine degli Angeli vi copra nel suo manto. This selection from La forza del destino was sung the day of Verdi’s state funeral; here it is in one of the greatest recordings ever made of Verdi’s music (or anyone else’s), sung by Rosa Ponselle and Ezio Pinza in 1928.
Of course, “Va, pensiero” from Nabucco was sung at the state funeral, too. Here is an historic performance from several months ago led by the great, the immense, Riccardo Muti. Background here. I dare you to try to watch this with a dry eye.
The final words of Mary Jane Phillips-Matz’s magnificent Verdi biography:
To the world, as to the nation he helped to found, Verdi left an enduring legacy of music, charity, patriotism, honour, grace, and reason. He was and remains a mighty force for continuing good.
Okay, Gustav III of Sweden was not a real Verdian: he died (from an infection that followed an assassination attempt) some two decades before Verdi was born. But he was a great patron of the arts, a lover of opera, and a librettist himself. And, of course, he was to have been the hero of the opera that we now know as Un ballo in maschera.
The Gustavo III-to-Ballo yarn makes my head spin. There is a wonderful article by Philip Gossett that used to be available online but now seems to be behind paywalls: “Returning Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera to Sweden” (Scandinavian Review, 2004).
In any event, in addition to Dr. Gossett’s work, I urge you to read Gabriele Baldini on Ballo. (The YouTube clip I embedded in that post has since been removed, but the text is, I hope, still informative.) You can read some of the Ballo chapter online.
Today’s clip shows Plácido Domingo singing Gustavo’s second set of couplets, “Di’ tu se fedele.” Claudio Abbado conducts this Covent Garden performance from long-ago 1975. (This production may have set the opera in Boston; I chose the performance because Domingo’s ebullience and grace are fit for a king.)
Plácido Domingo turns 71 on 21 January. He was the greatest Otello of my time and, I suspect, the greatest that I will ever see and hear.
This is the final scene from the 2001 La Scala Otello led by Riccardo Muti. Barbara Frittoli is Desdemona and Leo Nucci is Iago. If this run did not mark Domingo’s last assumption of Otello, it certainly was among his last outings in the rôle.
Il trovatore had its world premiere at the Teatro Apollo in Rome on 19 January 1853.
Verdi finally encountered the perfect musical libretto, a text which fully allowed for the musical life of its characters and for that alone: essentially a phantom libretto, which became completely engulfed by the music and, once the opera was finished, disappeared as an individual entity. The libretto of Il trovatoredid in fact disappear, and no one has ever succeeded in tracing it… Even if this miraculous libretto was given to Verdi like a gift, he must have been searching, though unconsciously, for this elusiveness. — Gabriele Baldini, The Story of Giuseppe Verdi
“Abietta zingara” sung by Ildebrando d’Arcangelo as Ferrando with Sir Antonio Pappano conducting
The soprano Katia Ricciarelli was born on 18 (some sources say 16) January 1946.
A great beauty in her time, she was one of the most admired and frequently recorded sopranos in the 1970s and early 1980s. A relatively early vocal decline set in, some say because Ricciarelli took on rôles (including Aida) too heavy for her soft, luminous voice. In recent years she has been active in musicals, films (she won a Nastro d’argento for her performance in Pupi Avati’s La seconda notte di nozze), and even a “reality‑television” series.
Ricciarelli sang the priestess in Herbert von Karajan’s 1979 recording of Aida (EMI) and the title rôle in Claudio Abbado’s 1981 La Scala set (DG). Here she is an affecting Aida in the Act III duet with Amonasro from the 1981 recording, with Leo Nucci as the Ethiopian king.
To the world, as to the nation he helped to found, Verdi left an enduring legacy of music, charity, patriotism, honour, grace, and reason. He was and remains a mighty force for continuing good. Mary Jane Phillips-Matz, Verdi: A Biography
Se noi uccidiamo la cultura su cui è fondata la storia dell’Italia, veramente sarà la nostra patria bella e perduta. Il maestro Riccardo Muti