VERDI: Overtures, Vol. 1 (Hungarian State Opera Orchestra/ Pier Giorgio Morandi/ Tamas Benedek) (Naxos: 8.553018)
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Giuseppe Verdi (1813 - 1901)
Overtures Volume 1
Il corsaro: Prelude
Luisa Miller: Sinfonia
La traviata: Prelude
La traviata: Prelude to Act III
Un ballo in maschera: Prelude
Oberto, conte di San Bonifacio: Sinfonia
I vespri siciliani: Sinfonia
Giuseppe Verdi's career spans three quarters of the nineteenthcentury. He was born in 1813 at Le Roncole, near Busseto, the son of a tavern-keeper, anddistinguished himself locally in music. The encouragement and patronage of his futurefather-in-law Antonio Barezzi, a merchant in Busseto, allowed him further study in Milan,before returning to Busseto as maestro di musica. His first venture into opera, areasonably successful one, was in 1839 with Oberto, conte di San Bonifacio. This wasfollowed, however, by the failure of Un giorno di regno,written at a period when the composer suffered the death of his wife and two children. Hisearly reputation was finally established by the opera Nabucco,staged at La Scala, Milan, in 1842.
Verdi's subsequent career in Italy brought him unrivalled fame,augmented by his reputation as a patriot and fervent supporter of Italian national unity.
His name itself was treated as an acronym for the proposed monarch of a united Italy,Vittorio Emanuele, r?¿ d'ltalia (Victor Emanuel, King of Italy), and much of his work wassusceptible to patriotic interpretation. His long association with the singer GiuseppinaStrepponi led to their marriage in 1859, the year of Unballo in maschera. He completed his last opera, Falstaff, in 1893, four years before her death, butfelt himself unequal to further Shakespearean operas then proposed. He died while stayingin Milan early in 1901, his death the subject of national mourning throughout Italy.
The opera Aroldo
was the result of censorship and official objection. In 1850 the opera Stiffelio had been performed in Trieste. With alibretto by Francesco Maria Piave based on the French drama Le pasteur au L'evangile et le foyer by EmileSouvestre and Eug?¿ne Bourgeois, Stiffelio
was not calculated to appeal to a Catholic audience, dealing, as it does, with thedilemmas facing a married Protestant clergyman, whose wife has an affair with a youngerman, finally to be forgiven in words from the New Testament, a further source ofobjection. A revised version made use of much the same music, with a text now set in thetime of the Crusaders. The returning knight Aroldo is married to Mina, daughter ofEgberto, who is unfaithful to her husband. The action takes place in the castle ofEgberto, near Kent, and continues on the banks of Lago Loomond (Loch Lomond) in Scotland,where Mina is finally forgiven by her husband. The revised version was first performed inRimini in 1857.
Il corsaro (The Corsair),again with a libretto by Piave, is based on the poem by Byron and was first performed inTrieste in 1848. Verdi showed relatively little immediate interest in the project, towhich he was urged by Francesco Lucca, a rival to Verdi's usual publisher Ricordi. Theopera was coolly received and soon disappeared from the repertoire. The overture is stormyenough, framing a more lyrical central section, leading to the opening chorus of pirates,led by the corsair himself, Corrado, lover of Medora, who attacks a Turkish stronghold andis taken prisoner, finding freedom with the help of the Pasha's favourite Gulnara.
Returning to the pirate haven, they find Medora dying, having taken poison, and Corradothen leaps into the sea, taking his own life.
The following year brought the first performance of Verdi's Luisa Miller, with a libretto by Salvatore Cammaranobased on Schiller's play Kabale und Liebe.
The action is set in seventeenth century Tyrol, where Luisa Miller is wooed by thehuntsman Carlo, in fact the son of Count Walter, lord of the castle, in disguise. Luisa,however, is promised to the Count's servant Wurm, who reveals Carlo's identity to herfather, while the Count's son, whose real name is Rodolfo, is to marry his cousin. Luisais tricked into denying her love for Rodolfo, who eventually finds means and opportunityto poison both her and himself. The overture, a true sinfonia, gives importance to theclarinet in a pastoral movement that sets the opening village scene, where Luisa'sbirthday is being celebrated.
Piave based the libretto of La traviata on the play La dame aux camelias by the younger Alexandre Dumas,set in contemporary Paris. The opera was first performed at La Fenice in Venice in 1853.
The well known story tells of the love of the young Alfredo for the worldly Violetta, who,at his father's request, sacrifices her own feelings, to return to her old life, withoutexplaining her motives to her lover. The couple are only re-united when Violetta is on herdeath-bed. The Prelude opens tenderly with the theme that returns in the Prelude to ActIII, when Violetta, lonely and abandoned, waits for death. The theme that follows is herplea for Alfredo's love from the second act, where she has resolved to leave him, for hisown good. The opening Prelude leads to the glitter and brilliance of a party at Violetta'shouse, while the later Prelude leads, instead, to a scene of loneliness, illness anddeath. The opera was a fiasco at its first performance, with a Violetta who in statureseemed hardly likely to die of consumption, but a later production in Venice, recast andtransposing the action to the period of Louis XIV, won immediate success there andelsewhere.
Voltaire's play Alzire
provided Cammarano with the basis for his libretto for Verdi's Alzira, first staged in Naples in 1845. The action isset in sixteenth century Peru, where the Spanish Governor Alvaro is released fromcaptivity by the Inca leader Zamoro, lover of Alzira. Alvaro is succeeded by his sonGusmano, who demands the hand of Alzira in marriage to secure a pact with the Incas.
Zamoro is later taken prisoner by Gusmano, but spared when Alzira agrees to marry him.
Finally Zamoro has his revenge, when he stabs Gusmano as he is about to marry Alzira,allowing the dying Spaniard to show final magnanimity in pardoning him. The overturestarts with woodwind and drums alone, an exotic touch to a work of exotic setting.
Un ballo in maschera, basedon Eug?¿ne Scribe's libretto Gustave III byAntonio Somma, suffered at the hands of the censors, who objected to its theme ofregicide. The action was then transferred from the Sweden of Gustav III to the Boston ofRiccardo, Count of Warwick, at the end of the seventeenth century. It was originallyintended for Naples, where the killing of a king aroused very real anxieties. When noagreement could be reached there, the opera was transferred to Rome and was firstperformed there in 1859. Recent productions have returned the opera from colonial Americato eighteenth century Sweden. The story which caused such problems deals with the loveaffair between the king and the wife of one of his hitherto loyal supporters, who nowjoins conspirators plotting against the king's life and finally kills him. The shortPrelude makes use of the theme of the chorus of loyal supporters of the king, the theme ofthe conspirators and the king's love theme.
Oberto, conte di San Bonifacio,first performed at La Scala in 1839, was Verdi's second op