Thursday, August 29, 2013

One Verdi Opera a Day: La traviata, I vespri Siciliani, Simon Boccanegra

Renata Scotto as Elena in I Vespri Siciliani

I'm continuing to listen to one Verdi opera a day, not on consecutive days but in
order, in partial celebration of the Verdi Bicentennial. I'm also making use of Mary Jane Philips Matz's magisterial biography of the composer, along with books by Julian Budden and Francis Toye. Mostly I'm just listening for my own enjoyment, as I hope my comments reflect

Maria Callas in La Traviata
La traviata   Francesco Maria Piave, based on Dumas fils "La dame aux camellias"  Venice 1853
Inspired by the courtesan Marie DuPlessis (1824-1847)

Maria Callas, Giuseppe DiStefano, Ettore Bastianini/Carlo Maria Giulini La Scala 1955

La traviata is an easy opera to take for granted. The story had notoriety before Verdi/Piave got to it, mostly via Sarah Bernhardt and Eleanora Duse. What begins in a brittle and cynical manner becomes an exercise in sincerity that dares you to mock. Violetta may be to sopranos as Hamlet is to actors. Again, Verdi is a great tune smith

We go from hedonism to pathos to deeply moving drama

The role of Alfredo is misleading. He has less to do emotionally in the opera. The heart of the piece is the Violetta-Germont scene in Act II. But Alfredo is no easy sing. He's worth doing for the Act III scene at Flora's if for nothing else

 Don't miss the new biography of Marie DuPlessis, whose life inspired Dumas fils and Verdi 

The Girl Who Loved Camellias by Julie Kavanaugh



Les vepres Siciliennes   Eugene Scribe/Charles Duveyrier  Paris 1855

Alexandrina Pendatchanska, Gregory Kunde, Dario Solari, Orlin Anastassov/Gianluigi Gelmetti Naples 2011

I vespri Siciliani  Ettore Ciami  Perugia 1855

Renata Scotto, Placido Domingo, Sherrill Milnes, Paul Plishka/James Levine
Metropolitan Opera November 4, 1974

These are two different operas with the same music and plot. Verdi wrote a French opera, to a French text for the Paris Opera.

In Verdi's day opera was sung in the language of the audience, thus necessitating an Italian translation, which
Salle Le Pelletier, Paris c. 1850
the composer hated.  Most of know I vespri Siciliani better than Les vepres Sicilienne. I don't know the French text very well. Even so I can tell the words fit the music perfectly. The French language gives this opera dignity the Italian lacks, the latter becoming more of a pot boiler. I would love to see a staged French language production of Verdi's original. I imagine Vepres/Vespri is a bitch to cast. The duets for Henri/Montfort and Henri/Helene are highlights for me. But my favorite moment in this opera is at the very beginning. The Duchess Helene demands her fellow Sicilians rise up against the French: Some of what I mean is at 4:00. But this is a wonderful clip surrounding the Verpres production from Naples cited above


Verdi knew that the Italian Vespri would run afoul of the censors. The Italian libretto was refashioned and called Giovanna di Guzman.  Whatever.
For I vespri Siciliani, here's a recent production from Verdi's own Parma:

 BTW: Verdi was also working on the French edition of Il trovatore--Le trouvere

Tito Gobbi as Simon Boccanegra

Simon Boccanegra   Francesco Maria Piave   Venice 1857  Music revised with new text by Arrigo Boito Milan 1881

 Tito Gobbi, Giorgio Tozzi, Leyla Gencer, Giuseppe Zampieri, Rolando PaneraiGianandrea Gavazzeni  Vienna Opera Orch and Chorus at the Salzburg Festival August 9, 1961

Sometimes I think this opera gets lost between Traviata and the impending, Ballo, Forza and Don Carlo. I've never paid it enough attention. The tenor and soprano take a back seat to the baritone and bass. Well, I'm here to tell ya, this is one powerful opera. If you don't know, invest 2 hours in a listen. Verdi's music captures both the image of the sea and the grandeur of the Venice of the Doges. There are moments of great intimacy, notably the soft 'Figlia' sung by SB after meeting his adult daughter. The Council Chamber Scene, added in 1881 (I don't know the 1857 version, as far as I know it is rarely performed) I've seen Simon Boccanegra and it plays like the grand opera it is. The last thirty seconds are especially thrilling. Boccanegra dies of poison. The crowd outside is calling for him. Fiesco says Greet Gabriele Adorno, your new Doge. No! Boccanegra! He is dead. Pray for his immortal soul". "

Verdi was apparently discouraged and annoyed with thew opera's failure in 1857. He had written it off until Boito convinced  the composer to accept the revisions, giving us the opera as performed today. Don't miss Simon Boccanegra

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