VERDI: Overtures / Preludes / Ballet Music
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Giuseppe Verdi (1813 - 1901) Prelude to Aida
Ballet Music from Aida
Triumphal March from Aida
Prelude to Act I of La Traviata
Prelude to Act III of La Traviata
Overture to La forza del destino
Overture to I Vespri Siciliani
I Vespri Siciliani: The Four Seasons(Ballet Music)
Prelude to Rigoletto
Giuseppe Verdi is a figure of thegreatest importance in the development of Italian opera, his own career coinciding with the riseof Italian nationalism and the consciousness of national unity. He was ofhumble family and owed his early musical training to the generosity of a richmusic-lover, Antonio Barezzi, who arranged to pay for his training at theConservatory in Milan, an institution that he failed to enter, embarkinginstead, with Barezzi's support, on private lessons in Milan with VincenzoLavigna, an opera composer and former maestro al cembalo at La Scala.
In 1836 Verdi was appointed municipalmusic director of Busseto, the nearest town to his native village of LeRoncole. He married in the same year the daughter of Antonio Barezzi and setabout completing his first opera, Rocester. Three years later the couplesettled in Milan, where Verdi was able to devote himself to the composition ofopera, an early period of his career that brought success and failure, as wellas tragedy in the death of his two children, followed, in 1840, by the death ofhis wife.
Verdi's first operas, Oberto in1839 and Un giorno di regno in 1840, were followed by the signal successof Nabucco at La Scala in 1842. Oberto, Conte di San Bonifacio,presumably based on the earlier Rocester, had been given fourteenperformances, reasonable encouragement for a youngcomposer, but Un giorno di regno was a disaster. The years immediatelyfollowing Nabucco brought the successful I Lombardi and Ernani,both of them with an overt patriotic relevance.
With these operas Verdi had establishedhimself, and during the course of a long career he was to write more than scoremore stage works, culminating, In 1893, with Falstaff, a final return toShakespeare, whose Macbeth he had transformed in 1847, followed forty yearslater by Otello. Recurrent plans for King Learwere never to be realised,nor Verdi's declared ambition to turn into opera the other major works ofShakespeare.
Verdi's contemporary popularity wasprimarily due to his great musical gifts. Nevertheless his association with theIdeals of nationalism made him something of a hero to the idealists of theRisorgimento, his very name taken as an acrostic for Vittorio Emanuele, Red'ltalia, a fortunate coincidence. From 1861 to 1865 he was a member of the newItalian parliament, at the request of Count Cavour, but spent his later life atBusseto, marrying in 1859 the singer Giuseppina Strepponi, who had befriendedhim at the time of his first opera, Oberto, and with whom he had alreadybeen living for twelve years.
The opera Rigoletto was firststaged at La Fenice in Venice in March, 1851. The libretto, by Francesco MariaPiave, was based on Victor Hugo's Le roi s'amuse, and in the final formeventually permitted by the censors, concerned the profligate Duke of Mantuaand the attempt of his jester, the hunch-back Rigoletto, to protect hisdaughter Gilda from the Duke's attentions and finally to take revenge on hismaster, a plot that leads, instead, to the death of Gilds. The original titleof the opera, La maledizione, refers to the curse uttered by the fatherof a girl who has lost her honour to the Duke, a curse that falls effectivelyon Rigoletto, who had behaved as cynically and cruelly as his master.
was staged at La Fenice two years later. The libretto was again by Piave, basedon the play La dame aux camelias by Alexandre Dumas, fils. The courtesanVioletta finds herself really in love with the young Alfredo Germont and thecouple set up house together. Alfredo's father begs Violetta to give up his sonand she agrees, later declaring herself truly in love with another, provokingher lover's open contempt. As Violetta lies dying of consumption, an illnessthat has been apparent from the earlier scenes, Alfredo, now aware of the parthis father has played in their separation, comes to ask her forgiveness and shedies in his arms.
The Prelude to Act I of La Traviata
starts with a theme of tender sadness that we are to hear again in theintroduction to the last act. This is followed by the theme of Violett'a pleafor Aifredo's love, contrasted with violin music of a lighter texture,representing the more frivolous side of her character. The Prelude to Act IIIheralds the sad resignation of Violetta to her inevitable death.
I vespri siciliani
was commissioned for the Great Exhibition in Paris in 1835, with a libretto bythe French writers Eugene Scribe and Duveyrier, adapted from a text preparedfor Donizetti in 1839 dealing with another historical event of an apparentlysimilar kind. The story of the opera concerns the massacre of French troops bySicilian patriots in fourteenth century Palermo, an incident for which thesignal had been the Vespers bell, rung to mark the wedding of the patrioticDuchess Elena, sister of Frederick of Austria, to Arrigo, son of Guy deMontfort, French governor of Sicily. The Overture sets the scene, with theominous drum-beat of its slow introduction, followed by a lyrical theme from alater duet for tenor and baritone, Arrigo and his father. Other themes used arethose that accompany the massacre and part of the music of Act IV, where Elenais in prison with the leader of the Sicilan conspiracy. The ballet music,obligatory in Paris, is often omitted from performances of the opera, apractice authorized by the composer. It forms part of the wedding celebrationsof the fifth act and consists of music for the four seasons, separated by abrief mime. Summer brings a siciliano and Autumn an adagio in music for aballet that has an independent existence in modern choreographic repertoire.
La forza del destino,first performed in St. Petersburg in November, 1862, uses a libretto by Piaveadapted from a play by the Spanish playwright Angel de Saavedra, Duke of Rivas,under the title Don Alvaro o La fuerza del sino. Don Alvaro, elopingwith Leonora, accidentally kills her father. Her brother, Don Carlo, swearsrevenge, and Leonora takes refuge in a mountain cave, protected by the monkswith whom she has sought sanctuary. Meanwhile Don Alvaro, disguised, fightsagainst the Germans and saves the life of a man he does not recognise, DonCarlo, with whom he swears eternal friendship. Realising his true identity, DonCarlo forces a duel, in which he is wounded, while Alvaro seeks refuge in amonastery. Five years later Alvaro has become a monk, but Don Carlo again seeksrevenge and is mortally wounded by his adversary, who refused him absolution. Aholy hermit is summoned, who turns out to be Leonora. Don Carlo stabs her andas she dies she begs Don Alvaro to resume his religious life.
The Overture to La forza del destino
was revised for performances of the opera in 1869. It makes use of theprincipal Fate theme, the first melody to be heard after the repeated openingnotes to call the attention of the audience. The Overture continues with awhole series of important melodies from the opera, the theme of Fate underlyingthe more lyrical elements.
Aida had its first performance at