VERDI: Opera Choruses (Marian Vach/ Martin Sauer/ Oliver Dohnanyi/ Slovak Philharmonic Chorus/ Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra) (Naxos: 8.550241)
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Opera Choruses by Giuseppe Verdi (1813 -1901)
Giuseppe Verdi's career spans three quarters of the nineteenth century.
He was born in 1813 at Roncole, near Busseto, the son of a tavern-keeper, anddistinguished himself locally in music before the encouragement and patronageof his future father-in-law, Antonio Barezzi, a merchant in Busseto, allowedhim further study in Milan, before returning to Busseto as maestro di musica.
His first venture into opera was with Oberto, in 1839, reasonably successful,but followed by the failure of Un giorno diregno, written at a period when the composer suffered the death ofhis wife and two children. His early reputation was established by the operaNabucco, staged at La Scala in Milan in 1842.
Verdi's subsequent career in Italy was to bring him unrivalled fame,augmented by his reputation as a patriot and fervent supporter of Italiannational unity. His association with the singer Giuseppina Strepponi led totheir marriage in 1859, the year of Un ballo in maschera. He completed his lastopera, Falstaff, in 1893, four years before her death, but felt himself unequalto further Shakespearian operas that were then proposed. He died while stayingin Milan, early in 1901, his death the subject of mourning throughout Italy.
The opera Nabucco
(Nebuchadnezzar), dealing as it does with the Babylonian captivity, had obviouspolitical implications in Italy in 1842. The chorus Va, pensiero, sull'alidorate (Fly, my thoughts, on golden wings) is sung by the chorus of Hebrewslaves, toiling in exile and slavery by the waters of Babylon. The words O miapatria, si bella e perduta (O my country, so fair and yet lost) struck thenecessary patriotic note for an age of incipient national consciousness.
Don Garlos, first staged in its French version in Paris in 1867 and atLa Scala in Italian in 1884, is based on the drama by Schiller. The plot of theopera concerns the Spanish Infante, Don Garlos, and his love for Elisabeth deValois, then betrothed to his father, for dynastic reasons. The conflict oflove and duty is further complicated by the involvement of Don Carlos inFlemish agitation for freedom and by the unrequited love felt for him by thePrincess Eboli. Final disaster is only averted by the intervention of thegrandfather of Don Carlos, Charles V (Carlos Primero of Spain), who rises fromthe tomb to protect him from his father and the Grand Inquisitor, who seek hispunishment by death. The chorus Spuntato ecco il dl d'esultanza (Welcome to theday of triumph) greets the king and his court in Act III of the opera.
La Traviata, firstproduced in Venice in 1853, is based on a very different source, the play Ladame aux camelias by Alexandre Dumas fils. Violetta, a courtesan, sacrificesher love for her beloved Alfredo, at his father's request, although the youngman does not know the cause of their estrangement, imagining her merely fickle.
Final reconciliation only comes as Violetta lies dying, when all is explained.
Masqueraders at the house of Violetta's friend Flora Bervoix, disguised asgypsies, announce their identity in Noi siamo zingarelle venute da lontano (Weare gypsies from afar) and entertain the guests, in a scene that brings aconfrontation between Alfredo and Violetta with her new protector BaronDouphol.
A second chorus from Nabucco, Gli arredi festivi gi?? candano infranti(The festive trappings now lie broken) accompanies the opening of the work, inwhich the chorus of Hebrew slaves has a major part to play in the dramaticconversion of the conquering Nebuchadnezzar.
The lyric tragedy La battaglia diLegnano (The Battle of Legnano), based on the French play La bataille de Toulouse, was first stagedin Rome in 1849. The action is set in twelfth century Italy and records thedefeat of the Emperor Barbarossa by the forces of the Lombard League. In thelast act Lida's prayer begs and is rewarded by the success of the patrioticforces, led by her jealous husband Rolando, with the help of her former loverArrigo, deprived of the honour of battle as a punishment for his suspectedliaison with Lida.
The well known Anvil Chorus from the opera Il Trovatore (The Troubadour), first staged in Rome in 1853and based on a Spanish drama, is sung by the gypsies who have stolen andadopted Manrico, the troubadour of the title, and brother to the wicked Countdi Luna, Manrico's rival in love for Leonora. At their camp in the mountainsthe gypsies welcome the dawn, with Vedil Le fosche notturne spoglie (See, thedarkness of night dissolves), before the old gypsy Azucena recalls the scene ofher mother's death at the stake.
Ernani, drawn from the play by Victor Hugo, was produced for the firsttime in 1844 in Venice. Set in sixteenth century Spain, the plot deals with thepredicament of Elvira, about to marry an elderly kinsman, but loved by thefuture Emperor Charles V and by the bandit Ernani, in reality Don Juan deAragon. At the accession of the Emperor to the throne all seems about to endhappily, with Elvira 's marriage to Ernani, when, as the result of a compactmade with Elvira's former intended husband Silva, he is obliged to killhimself. The chorus Si rideste il Leon di Castiglia (Let the Lion of Castilearise) comes at the height of the third act, in which conspirators, includingSilva and Ernani, plan to assassinate the future Emperor, who overhears fromhis hiding-place their plans.
Verdi's penultimate opera, Otello,first staged in Milan in 1887, was his second attempt to transfer Shakespeareto the Italian operatic stage. The chorus Fuoco di gioia (Fire of joy) comes inthe first act of the opera, when Otello's ship has safely weathered the stormto reach Cyprus. The crowd gathers round a fire that has been kindled. It isonly later that the wicked lago provokes Otello's jealousy that leads to thetragic climax and the death of his young wife Desdemona.
Giuramento, the oath chorus from the third act of La battaglia di Legnano, marks the oath ofthe conspirators of the Lombard League to free Italy from foreign tyranny,while the exiles' chorus from Macbeth, the first of the Shakespearean operas.
Patria oppressa (Oppressed country) opens the fourth act. Here those who havebeen forced to seek refuge in England from Macbeth's oppression lament the fateof their country, soon to be freed by the murdered king's son, Malcolm. Theopera was first performed in Florence in 1847.
The soldiers' chorus Or co' dadi, ma fra poco (Now we gamble andgossip) opens the third act of Il Trovatore,where the forces of the Count di Luna prepare for battle against his rivalManrico. Rataplan, rataplan, from La forzadei destino (The Force of Destiny), closes the third act of theopera, first mounted in St. Petersburg in 1862. A plot of some complexity,based on a play by the Duke of Rivas, is a story of love and revenge. DonAlvaro, lover of Leonora, accidentally kills her father, and is the object,thereafter, of vengeance from Leonora's brother, Don Carlo. They do notrecognise each other, and swear eternal friendship in a later act. The chorusRataplan, initiated by the gypsy girl Preziosilla, calms a quarrel betweenSpanish and Italian soldiers, caused by the ill-timed sermon of a friar.
The second scene of the second act of the opera Aida, written for thenew Cairo opera-house in 1871, opens with a triumphal chorus, marking thereturn of Radames, victorious over Aida's father, the Ethiopian king Amonasro.
The tragedy that follows is a result of the rivalry in love of the Egyptia