The following day, June 2nd, being Italy’s Republic day, and, therefore, a national holiday (unfortunately falling on a Sunday – but I was told by my students at Materis that they’d get double-pay) what better way to celebrate it than with a Verdi evening? Well, almost, for the name Verdi stood among patriots back in 1861 as an acronym for Vittorio Emanuele Re D’Italia, the re galant’uomo – the first King of Italy – he of the big bushy moustaches and whose statue graces many an Italian town and village centre square – who helped Italy along to its unification.
The battle cry “Viva Verdi”, therefore, took on a second significance for Italian patriots attending the local opera house.
(Above, the man himself at the time he composed “La Traviata”)
The name of Verdi remains indissolubly linked with the birth of the new Italian nation – and is a far less equivocal bond than that between the other great bicentenarian composer of this year Richard Wagner and Germany (particularly 20th century Germany……)
The Vicaria della Val di Lima sent two of their representatives to welcome the theatre-goers – behind you can see the mayor of our comune wearing an interesting tie.
I can only applaud the evening. For a little theatre like il Teatro Accademico di Bagni di Lucca to put on an event of top-class lyrical singing is praiseworthy and I, as indeed the rest of the full house was glad to be there.
However, back in 1870 one person wasn’t so happy when he attended a performance of Verdi’s “Aida”. According to the anecdote a friend told me that evening this person wrote a letter expressing his dissatisfaction with the work, to the great man himself, criticising it as being of little significance – apart from a few nice bits with trumpets – and attaching an expenses claim for wasted train journey (second class ticket), theatre ticket, supper at the station restaurant, and programme cost. Verdi wrote back to the complainant stating that he would be willing to reimburse the dissatisfied customer except that he would only refund the cost of a third class ticket as he needn’t have travelled in the comparative luxury of a second class carriage and that also, regretfully, he would not pay for his station restaurant meal since he could easily have provided himself with vino e panini from home. Verdi added that he would only pay the costs if the plaintiff would sign a declaration to never attend an opera by Verdi again as he didn’t want to take the risk of any further similar types of expenses claims!
Verdi was indeed a very down-to-earth person – both metaphorically and literally. Having slaved “in the galleys” as he said, writing operas at the rate of at least one a year he was glad to have some respite and free time looking after his farming estate at Busseto where he lived, well-ahead of the customs of his times, and heedless of the town’s tittle-tattle, with his beloved common-law wife Giuseppina Strepponi. (The sudden death of his first wife and all their children by typhus had almost made the distraught man give up his music).
I would add a couple more things about Verdi: first, although appointed a member of the new Italian parliament and writing the government a letter of thanks for the honour, Verdi was never truly a political man and found politics in the new Italy often a trying experience. Second, although Britain embraced Verdi as a sort of musical Garibaldi and as a champion of freedom Verdi didn’t think all that much of the UK as he had a somewhat unfortunate experience with one of his first operas – the second-rate “Masnadieri” – which was commissioned by a London theatre, slammed by critics as “crude” (at that time the nation was still wrapped in post-Mendelssohnian mellifluousness) and not much liked by Queen Victoria either – “the music is very shoddy and banal” she wrote in her diary.
However, all was forgiven after the British premiere of his wonderful Requiem took place in May 1875 at the Albert Hall, conducted by the composer himself, with a chorus of over 1000 and an orchestra of 140 (and which work is now the staple of many a choral society in in that part of the world). One journalist at the premiere described the work as “the most beautiful music for the church that has been produced since the Requiem of Mozart”, a view that was echoed by most people (and still is).
Anyway, here is the programme for the Verdi evening at Bagni di Lucca theatre., Some of the items have video recordings I made of them. You can see them by clicking on the youtube link.
Concerto lirico vocale di arie e duetti tratte da celebri opere di Giuseppe Verdi con la partecipazione di:
SIMONA PARRA soprano
LEONARDO SGROI tenore
PAOLO MORELLI baritono
LAURA BRIOLI mezzosoprano
MARCO RIMICCI pianoforte
con la partecipazione straordinaria della Corale di San Pietro a Corsena
Direttore: Ennio Stefani
Pianista: Susan Hopkins
conduce la serata: FRANCO BOCCI
programma del concerto
Nabucco: coro di schiavi ebrei – Va Pensiero – coro
I Lombardi alla Prima Crociata: O Signore dal tetto natio – coro
Nabucco: Dio di Giuda – baritono
Il Trovatore: Stride la vampa – mezzosoprano
Luisa Miller: quando le sere al placido – tenore
La Forza del Destino: Pace, pace mio Dio – soprano
Don Carlos: Dio che nell’alma infondere – tenore e baritono
Aida: Duetto atto II Aida verso noi s’avanza – soprano e mezzosoprano
Macbeth: Ah la patena mano – tenore
Macbeth – duetto donna fatal un murmure – soprano e baritono
Don Carlo : O don fatale – mezzosoprano
Rigoletto: La donna è mobile – tenore
Il Trovatore: duetto Conte e Leonora – soprano e baritono
Il Trovatore: duetto finale ai nostri monti – mezzosoprano e tenore
La Traviata: Lunge da lei – Sassetti
La Traviata: Brindisi soprano, tenore e coro
The inno di Mameli (AKA Italian national Anthem) was a splurge of patriotism for which all the audience stood up, some with hands on heart and several singing it too.
It would be difficult to single out especially noteworthily rendered items. However, I found the Macbeth excerpts grippingly interpreted and I laud the programmers who included less well-known arias among the staple war horses.
Claudio Sassetti, Bagni di Lucca’s own tenor who made a guest appearance, displayed yet another side of his flexibility in the beautifully sung item from la Traviata
Again, on the home front, The Corsena Choir showed that they can sing opera as well as any item from their more normally ecclesiastical repertoire.
Of course, without the two pianists the versatile and virtuosistic Marco Rimicci and Susan Hopkins, a truly international accompanist, none of the performances would have been possible.
Here are some views of the evening’s performers:
Finally, when someone asked Verdi, towards the end of his long life (he died aged 87) what he thought his best opera was (opera in Italian translates as both “opera” and “work”) he replied “the rest home (casa di riposo) I founded for aged musicians”. Now that truly is modesty and sums up this extraordinary person to a T.