Gustav III of Sweden was born on 24 January 1746.
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 trovatore did 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
- “Tacea la notte placida” sung by Anja Harteros
- “Condotta ell’era in ceppi” sung by Shirley Verret
- “Il balen del suo sorriso” sung by Heinrich Schlusnus
- “Di quella pira” in Visconti’s Senso
- Act IV, Scene 1 sung by Maria Callas as Leonora, with Giuseppe di Stefano as Manrico and Herbert von Karajan conducting
- “Ai nostri monti” sung by Fiorenza Cossotto as Azucena and Carlo Bergonzi as Manrico
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.
- Riccardo Muti speaks about the Manzoni Requiem and the cultural crisis in Italy (in Italian, overdubbed in French)
- Maria Callas in Act II of La traviata and other music by Verdi
- Callas in Puccini’s Tosca, which turns 112 years old on Saturday and was a subject that the elderly Verdi reportedly admired
Dear readers, I wish you and yours a festive San Silvestro and the very best of everything in 2012: health, wealth, love, success, serenity, and your heart’s dearest desires.
To start off the celebrations, Roberto Alagna and Tiziana Fabbricini sing the brindisi from La traviata in the 1991 La Scala production by Liliana Cavani, with Riccardo Muti conducting. (And if you don’t mind something tacky but wonderful, listen to this.)
Incidentally, I believe that the brindisi was the bit of music that Stravinsky mentioned in his interview with an avant-garde journalist in Buenos Aires. The encounter as told by Robert Craft:
“Maestro, what is your opinion of La traviata?” Stravinsky looked severely at the interviewer and threw back at him: “Recently I had the pleasure of listening to its delicious waltz and never in my life would I be capable of composing anything to equal that.” The journalist fled.
Posts resume after the New Year’s holiday. Augurissimi!