Late February is a period rich in anniversaries associated with Verdi.
Nowadays Francesco Maria Piave is remembered only as a librettist for Verdi. But he had one other great success in the operatic world: Crispino e la comare by Luigi and Federico Ricci, which had its world premiere on 28 February 1850 at the Teatro San Benedetto in Venice and took Europe (and Calcutta, and the Americas) by storm.
Luigi Ricci was brother-in-law to Teresa Stolz, the soprano who sang in the world premieres of the Manzoni Requiem, the revised Forza, and the revised Don Carlo, as well as the European premiere of Aida. He was a colorful character who lived with and had children by both of Stolz’s sisters, the twins Francesca and Ludmilla. Federico was Luigi’s younger brother.
Daniel Auber was born in 1782, making him some thirty years older than Verdi. The two socialized in Paris, and Verdi apparently liked and respected Auber a great deal.
Auber’s Gustave III had its world premiere on 27 February 1833 at the Opéra. Gustave III is the same subject that ultimately became Un ballo in maschera. (The Wikipedia article on Gustavo III offers details on the tribulations of that opera.)
I love this woman so much that just writing about her makes me blubber. I had the pleasure of interviewing her around the time of her Met farewell, and she is a smart, gracious, and utterly endearing person, as one might expect.
Her Verdi rôles on stage and disc included Nanetta, Alice Ford, Desdemona, Aida, Violetta, Elvira (which she considered a mistake), Elisabetta, and Leonora (Forza).
Today’s selection is from the DG recording of Simon Boccanegra led by Claudio Abbado, to my mind the greatest of all Verdi sets. Freni sings “Come in quest’ora bruna.” (Read what Fabio Luisi, a Genovese, had to say about this music.)
“The voluntary servitude I consecrated to that just, most noble, and truly great man is the act of my life that gives me most satisfaction.”
So wrote Arrigo Boito of his work with Verdi. Boito was born on 24 February 1842, and he died in 1918.
Boito’s marvelous writings about Verdi are quoted in many of this blog’s posts. While most scholars agree that we “owe” to the immensely tactful and patient Boito Verdi’s last operatic masterpieces, Otello and Falstaff (plus the Boccanegra revision), Boito’s reputation as a librettist has been on a downswing for several decades.
The meeting with Piave was far more important to Verdi’s artistic formation than the one with Boito… and the reason for this is quite simple: working with Piave was Verdi’s first opportunity to work with himself… [Piave’s] libretti are in fact those best suited to Verdi’s music—even from a literary point of view they are much finer, in the sense of being better finished, than Boito’s—simply because, in detail as well as in general shape, Verdi himself composed them. Furthermore, Piave was undoubtedly much more intelligent than Boito in artistic matters. Boito was an artist and a man of letters, but he never fully understood Verdi and so continually tried to bend him towards his own ideas. Piave, with profound critical insight, immediately appreciated the situation, and simply let libretti fall into Verdi’s lap…
In honor of Boito’s birthday, here are words and music by him: “Ave, Signor!” from Mefistofele (1868, rev. 1881 and several other times). Ildebrando d’Arcangelo is the Dark Lord, and Riccardo Muti conducts this 2005 performance from Ravenna.
Incidentally, if you click through and watch the video on YouTube, you can have fun wading through the heart-rending laments by the passatisti. I mean, for Pete’s sake, I saw and heard Samuel Ramey in this rôle at New York City Opera, San Francisco, and the Met; and he was wonderful; and why on earth should this keep anyone from enjoying the admirable D’Arcangelo?
Renata Scotto, the prima donna assoluta of the Metropolitan Opera when I was a very young opera lover, turns 78 on 24 February.
Thanks to YouTube and other online resources, I have been able to revisit some of the many, many performances of hers that I witnessed. In the absence of Scotto’s spellbinding stage presence, some now fall short of the greatness that I recalled, especially given her sometimes curdled tone and mannered phrasing.
That said, the 1977 EMI set of Nabucco led by Riccardo Muti is one of my very favorite recordings of a Verdi opera, and this is due in large part to Scotto, who sings Abigaille’s death scene better than anyone—to my mind. (All of my Callas orfanelli are going to take offense at that statement.)
Listen to the exhaustion and abasement she conveys; the warmth that floods her tone at Vieni, costor s’amavano; the tearful hope at Solleva Iddio l’afflitto; that pianissimo; and, finally, the magic that she and Muti make with Abigaille’s very last phrases.
I have not yet seen the DVD whose cover image you see at left.
Though Wainwright is one of my favorite singer-songwriters, I did not have high expectations for Prima Donna. In the event, I enjoyed it more than I had expected to and was especially impressed by New York City Opera’s beautiful production and the superb performances by the cast.
In case you have not heard it, here is the opera’s final aria, “Les feux d’artifice t’appellent,” sung by the composer.
Giangiacomo Guelfi, the Roman baritone and pupil of Tita Ruffo, died on 8 February in Bolzano at the age of 87.
De mortuis nihil nisi bonum: though he is recalled fondly by those who favor sound and volume above all, Guelfi is in all honesty not my kind of singer. But his performance in “O prodi miei” from Nabucco is energetic and emphatic in a way that few singers today would venture.
Giovanna d’Arco, with a libretto by Temistocle Solera, had its world premiere at La Scala on 15 February 1845. The next Verdi opera to premiere in Milan was the revised La forza del destino nearly a quarter-century later, in 1869.
The performance of the overture is by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra with Andrea Licata conducting.
Giovanna is not a great favorite of mine, but it has an interesting history. According to Wikipedia, for the opera’s first performance in Rome, the papal censors demanded that it be recast as a secular drama: “The title was changed to Orietta di Lesbo, the setting was shifted to the Greek island and the heroine, now of Genoese descent, became a leader of the Lesbians against the Turks.”
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