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Even as Verdi was completing La Traviata, the pressure cooker of Italian politics was on the boil yet again. A badly conceived attempted coup by the republican Mazzini to overthrow the Austrian garrison in Milan was easily thwarted and harsh reprisals followed. The attempt did irreparable damage to the cause espoused by republicans such as Verdi and others for the creation of a united Italian Republic. The republicans increasingly began to look towards Piedmont and its King, Vittorio Emanuele. Based on Turin, Piedmont was the only state independent of Austria in northern Italy. As such it had its own army and could purchase arms and train troops. When Vittorio Emanuele signed a Bill in the Piedmont Parliament, supported by a certain Count Cavour, to curtail the powers of the Catholic Church in Piedmont, monarchists and republicans began to make common cause. It was the start of a sequence of events that, several years later, would impinge significantly on the continuity of Verdi’s compositional creativity.

Back in Busseto after the Traviata premiere, Verdi was in extended correspondence with Antonio Somma, an Italian lawyer and playwright, about an opera based on King Lear. Somma had never written a libretto and Verdi commissioned him to do so, based on Shakespeare’s Lear, much as he had done with Cammarano three years earlier. Again the project came to nothing as Verdi turned his mind towards his contract with the Paris Opéra for a five act grand opera including a ballet. The 1830s and 1840s were the golden age at The Opéra under the management of Veron. The musical pillars of the Paris establishment were Auber, Meyerbeer and Halévy who developed opera with greater complexity and on a scale than had not been seen before. Sooner or later every aspiring Italian composer of worth wanted to make his debut there. Verdi’s first invitation had come in 1845, shortly after the production of Giovanna d’Arco when he was fully committed in Italy; he held out for two years before accepting a definite engagement. Finally, he signed a contract to provide an opera for the autumn of 1847. Verdi followed the example of Rossini and Donizetti in modifying an earlier work, grafting onto it a new plot, composing new numbers where necessary and adding a ballet. The challenge of Paris and its musical standards keep Verdi interested in The Opéra, whilst Jérusalem, a revision of I Lombardi, was sufficiently successful to keep the theatre management interested in the composer. Jérusalem was to have been followed by a completely new work by Verdi. However, the dramatic political upheavals in France, leading to the Second Empire in 1848 made that impossible, and Verdi did not return to Paris until 1852 when, during the gestation of Il Trovatore, he returned to negotiate a new contract. The Opéra were desperate for a new grand opera to be premiered in 1855 during the Paris Exhibition of that year. Fully aware of his own value in the international market, Verdi drove a hard bargain. The full resources of the theatre were to be put at his disposal and no other new opera was to be performed at the theatre that year. Further, Verdi would choose all the cast himself and there would be forty performances guaranteed. The composer was also to enjoy the services of Eugène Scribe as librettist. Scribe had been librettist for Halévy and Meyerbeer for their ‘Grand Operas’ prepared for The Paris Opéra.

When Verdi and Strepponi travelled to Paris in October 1853, the scheduled date for the new opera was more than a year and a half away, but already there was no agreement with Scribe as to the subject. Scribe tried to palm Verdi off with a libretto that had been turned down by Halévy and later partially set to music by the then ailing Donizetti as Le Duc d’Albe. Even when the subject of Les Vêpres Siciliennes, Verdi’s 20th title, was settled, his composition was hindered by Scribe who persistently failed to provide Verdi with a dramatically taut final act. The composer demanded release from the contract, as its terms as originally stipulated by him had not been met. Eventually matters were resolved and the composer and poet reconciled their differences with the plot being set in Palermo, Sicily, in 1292 at the time of the French occupation. The five act opera, complete with ballet, was premiered on 13 June 1855 and was well received. It gained the approbation and admiration of fellow composers Adolphe Adam and Hector Berlioz; the latter’s opinion carrying particular weight. Although Les Vêpres Siciliennes received more performances in the season than the contracted number, Verdi’s first ‘Grand Opera’ had a chequered fate and was not destined to enter the charmed circle of Paris repertory Grand Opera such as Meyerbeer’s Les Huguenots or Halévy’s La Juive. Although there was a revival in Paris in 1863, for which Verdi wrote several new arias, it was not heard in France in its original language after 1865.

The first Paris performances over, Verdi organised an Italian translation, I Vespri Siciliani, only to discover that the subject was not acceptable in Italian theatres. In the first productions in Italy the location of the action and the title were changed. Nonetheless the opera made an auspicious start in Italy with nine productions in different theatres during the 1855-56 carnival season. The ballet was eventually dropped in Italian performances. But it was not until the liberation and unification of Italy that either the original French title or the equivalent Italian was permitted.

In the present day, the work has never achieved great popularity in either French or Italian, a fact represented in the dearth of recordings. Until the issue by Opera Rara of the original French version of Les Vêpres Siciliennes (review) the work had only been heard on record in its Italian manifestation, I Vespri Siciliani. The Opera Rara issue has the virtue of Francophone singers in the person of Jaqueline Brumaire as Hélène and Jean Bonhomme as Henri and a strong de Montfort from Neilson Taylor, a baritone rather surprisingly not heard elsewhere on record. In its Italian form the opera has fared little better on record than its French original. For long enough the 1974 RCA recording featuring Placido Domingo, Sherrill Milnes, Ruggero Raimondi and Martina Arroyo, replacing a seriously ill Montserrat Caballé, stood alone in the catalogue (RCA 80370). Although all the male principals sing well, with Raimondi a suitably sonorous and implacable Procida, Levine’s conducting is a little superficial and Arroyo is not always at her best. An EMI issue of a live La Scala performance under Muti features Chris Merritt, Giorgio Zancanaro and Ferruccio Furlanetto with Cheryl Studer as Elena. Of the men only Zancanaro matches his RCA rival, whilst Cheryl Studer surpasses Arroyo. Muti’s conducting of the ballet music, the nearest Verdi ever came to symphonic composition, is amongst the maestro’s best efforts (EMI CDS 7 54043-2).

The La Scala performance under Muti is available on DVD (Opus Arte OA LS 3008 D). Giorgio Zancanaro’s tall elegance as the French Governor, and ruler of Sicily in Pier Luigi Pizzi’s sparse sets, is impressive. The visual aspects improve the impression of Ferruccio Furlanetto’s vocally lightweight impact as Procida; a substitute late in the day for Paata Burchuladze, who was sent packing by Muti. His tonal colour, vocal weight and sonority have since increased significantly. An alternative DVD conducted by Chailly, of a performance at Bologna in 1986, is available from Warner (review). This features Susan Dunn as a vocally resplendent Elèna. Regrettably, her acting does not match her vocal skills whilst Leo Nucci is no visual or vocal match for Zancanaro on the La Scala issue. Chailly’s conducting is first rate and contributes significantly to the dramatic impetus of the performance.

Without doubt Les Vêpres Siciliennes, in whichever language, lacks the dramatic tautness and richness of concentrated melodic invention of its immediate predecessors. It is possible that Verdi could not sustain his optimum level of creativity over five acts. Equally, the battles he had to fight with the bureaucracy within The Opéra, which was noted by Berlioz, together with the lack of professionalism of Scribe, who could not even be bothered to attend rehearsals to make adjustments when required, must have had an effect on his creativity. But the best music within the opera is that from the pen of the mature Verdi. Several solo arias have his distinctive stamp, whilst the confrontations between Governor Montfort and the rebel Henri, who turns out to be his son, are of the highest quality. Whilst Verdi is renowned for his operas examining the father-daughter relationship, Les Vêpres Siciliennes is one of the few in which the composer focuses on that between father and son. Different facets of this relationship are to be found in his 6th opera, I due Foscari (1844), his 11th, I Masnadieri (1847) and 15th Luisa Miller (1847). Montforte is, however, the very first of Verdi’s lonely figures of authority who have to weigh their love of wife, grand-daughter or son alongside their duties to the state. Successors are Simon Boccanegra (1857) and King Philip in Verdi’s other Grand Opera for Paris, Don Carlos (1864).

After the premiere of Les Vêpres Siciliennes Verdi did not immediately return to Busseto in his usual way. Instead he was concerned to safeguard his interests in England and at the Paris Théâtre Italien where several of his operas had been given in pirated versions. When he did return home in December 1855 he had no firm contract for a further opera. Perhaps he was heeding Giuseppina’s earlier plea not to drive himself so hard as they had adequate resources for their needs. However, Verdi had purchased more land in Busseto to enlarge his farm at Sant’Agata and was aware that he would have to take up his compositional pen to clear his debts. He had three possible projects on the horizon. These included King Lear, and possible revisions of La battaglia di Legnano and Stiffelio; the proposed revision of the latter would involve Piave, now resident stage director of Venice’s La Fenice.

In March 1856 Verdi travelled to Venice to witness the triumph of La Traviata at the La Fenice, the very stage where its premiere had been a fiasco three years before. The following month Piave made an extended return visit to Busseto where Verdi reluctantly agreed to his suggestion to exchange the Protestant Minister in Stiffelio into an English crusader and add an entirely new act. The premiere of the revision was at first envisaged for the autumn of 1856 in Bologna. This was not to be as Verdi signed a contract with the La Fenice to compose an entirely new work for the 1857 Carnival Season to a libretto written by Piave. The title of the new opera was to be Simon Boccanegra, Verdi’s 21st, based like Il Trovatore on a play by Gutiérez.

The composition of Simon Boccanegra did not proceed smoothly. Verdi had to go to Paris and sue over pirated editions of his works at the Théâtre Italien. He lost the case, but was more than adequately compensated by a production of a French translation of Il Trovatore at The Opéra. For Il Trouvère, as it became, Verdi added the statutory ballet music and made a number of alterations to suit local tastes and conditions. Meanwhile, even the ever-compliant and uncomplaining Piave was getting desperate over the composer’s constant delaying of his return to Italy and Venice to complete the orchestration of Simon Boccanegra and supervise rehearsals. Given the circumstances it is hardly surprising that at the delayed premiere of the work on 12 March 1857, Simon Boccanegra was deemed a failure. Some blamed the dark nature of the plot, others the experimental nature of the music. It was also a failure in Florence and Milan and ten years after its composition its fortunes reached such a low ebb that Giulio Ricordi, the new power in the publishing family, suggested Verdi revise it. He did so in 1881 at the age of 68 when he considered his composition days over. The time between the original and the revision was even greater than that between the versions of Macbeth, which had been a great success at its premiere. The revision, which is the form in which the opera is performed today, was to all intents and purposes a new opera with major alterations and additions to the dramatic situations. Its audio and video recordings are dealt with in PART 4 of this conspectus.

The lyrical music of the original, and its representation of the Genoese setting, has its own appeal. Gutiérez had been Spanish Consul in Genoa and his treatment of an episode in Genoese history struck a chord with Verdi who made the city his winter quarters for nearly fifty years and bought property there. The city streets and piazzas bear the names made familiar by the opera, whilst the sea setting is invoked in the introductory music of both the prologue and act 1. Once again Verdi enthusiasts are indebted to the BBC performances of the composer’s original thoughts and Opera Rara’s issue of them on CD (review). First broadcast on New Year’s Day 1976 this performance of the original Simon Boccanegra features Sesto Bruscantini in the title role, André Turp as Adorno, Josella Ligi as Maria and the Welsh bass Gwynne Howell as Fiesco. It is a pity that the BBC did not cast the Yorkshire baritone Peter Glossop as Boccanegra as they did in the title role of their Macbeth and as Don Carlo in the original version of La Forza del Destino. Bruscantini, justifiably well known for his buffa interpretations, has not the ideal heft or colour for the more dramatic scenes in Simon Boccanegra. John Matheson is a lyrical and idiomatic conductor.

With Boccanegra and the Parisian lawsuits out of the way, Verdi and Piave turned their minds again to the revision of Stiffelio. The premiere was scheduled for 16 August 1857 to open the new opera house in Rimini, the Teatro Nuovo. As well as having Verdi to direct the production, and Piave to stage it, the performances were to have the benefit of a professional conductor in the person of Angelo Mariani who was rapidly establishing himself as primo in this newly emerging profession. Mariani’s presence enabled Verdi to write three sophisticated choruses, with elaborate part-writing, for new last act. This act, set on the shores of Loch Lomond in Scotland, is entirely new and bears no relationship with the equivalent scene in Stiffelio. Well used to crusaders and the like in the operas of Rossini and Donizetti, and without the complications of a married clergyman, Aroldo Verdi’s 22nd opera was a success. Much of the writing is Verdi 1857 vintage. With five other operas behind him since the composition of Stiffelio, at every comparable point between the two works, except perhaps for the opening scene of Stiffelio, the later Aroldo is superior.

Aroldo reached Vienna, Lisbon, Buenos Aires and New York and survived in Italy until the turn of the century. It has since become, together with Alzira, the least performed of all Verdi’s operas. The rediscovery of the more dramatically vibrant and cohesive Stiffelio, although musically inferior, will do nothing to change this situation. For over twenty years Aroldo was represented in the catalogue by an April 1979 live performance given in New York’s Carnegie Hall with Eve Queler conducting. This features Montserrat Caballé as an impressive Mina. The role is more dramatic than Lina in Stiffelio and her entry is electric. A particular vocal highlight from Caballé is the opening scene of act 2, which she had included on her 1967 LP titled Verdi Rarities, a particular favourite of mine and since issued on CD. The male cast are adequate but not as impressive as the diva herself whilst the sound has its rough patches (M2K 79328).

To mark the centenary of the composer’s death in 2001, and presumably to bring their early Verdi opera series to a conclusion, Philips issued studio recordings of both Alzira and Aroldo. Fabio Luisi conducts both with an ease of Verdian style that matches Lamberto Gardelli on the original early Verdi series from the label, with perhaps a touch more dramatic bite that is wholly appropriate in Aroldo. What is also appropriate in view of the choruses that Verdi added to the final act is the use of Italian choral forces, those from Florence’s Maggio Musicale. Recorded in December 1997 the principal soloists, Carol Vaness as Mina, Neil Shicoff as Aroldo, Anthony Michaels-Moore as Egberto and Roberto Scandiuzzi as the hermit Briano are of uniformly good standard. Vaness might not have the vocal élan or mezza voce steadiness of Caballé, but her fuller tone and colour are used to good effect. If the male soloists do not erase memories of Bergonzi, Cappuccilli and Raimondi that is to hearken back to Verdi singers who bestrode the fach a generation before this recording was made. Sufficient that the singers do justice to Verdi’s neglected music as does the recording, which is far superior to the earlier issue. A colleague’s review can be found here.

With all other business out of the way, Verdi turned his mind to the contract he had signed with the San Carlo in Naples. This was for an un-named opera for the 1857-1858 Carnival Season. Somma had completed the libretto of King Lear and if the right cast could be assembled this was the intended subject. Verdi considered Marietta Piccolomini ideal for Cordelia as he imagined the role, and whilst in Paris had broached the issue with the singer. She was enthusiastic, but Verdi drew back and she sought work elsewhere. The composer used her non-availability in Naples as an excuse to drop the subject of King Lear. Five years before his death, when he offered all his material on the subject to Mascagni, Verdi admitted to the younger man that the scene in which King Lear finds himself on the heath terrified me. Perhaps Verdi, even with his genius, had self-doubts as to whether he could put on paper that scene and the totality of the musical drama that was in his mind. A King Lear from Verdi, a project that occupied much of his thoughts in the 1850s, was never to be.

Verdi failed to meet his June 1857 contract date with the San Carlo to provide a synopsis of the chosen plot. He also rebuffed their blandishment that whereas he might find a better Cordelia their contracted baritone, tenor and bass were of the highest class for a King Lear. By the September the theatre management were getting restive and turned down suggestions for Verdi to personally supervise and direct a revival of Aroldo, Boccanegra or an amended La Battaglia del Legnano as an alternative. The theatre did not consider these proposals to be a fulfilment of his contract and Verdi hurriedly cast around for another subject. He considered Victor Hugo’s Ruy Blas but with time pressing he settled on an adaptation of an existing five-act libretto by none other than Eugène Scribe. Auber had already set this to music five years before for the Paris Opéra with the title Gustave III, où Le Bal Masque. It was a subject that had tempted Bellini and like many of Scribe’s libretti was based on an actual historical event, the assassination in 1792 of Gustavus III of Sweden at a masked ball in the Stockholm opera house. To explain the event Scribe had added a fictitious love affair between the King and the wife of his secretary. Given contemporary events in Italy and Europe, and that Naples was part of a kingdom; Verdi was not surprised that the local censors demanded a change of locale. But they demanded much more besides, including transfer to a pre-Christain age. Verdi accepted a change of location, and the King to become a Duke, but he insisted on a period such as that of Louis XVI’s court. These accepted changes were submitted to the censor when Verdi arrived in Naples in January 1858. Any chance of their acceptance went with the news of Felice Orsini’s attempt on the life of Napoleon III of France in Paris on 13 January. The Naples Chief of Police ruled that the opera text would have to be re-written in its entirety to preclude any dancing on stage and the murder must be off-stage.

In the ensuing impasse the San Carlo management decided another poet would re-set the opera to an entirely new libretto meeting all the local legal and censorial requirements. Verdi refused to have anything to do with the new libretto and the San Carlo sued him for breach of contract. Verdi counterclaimed for damages and had much popular support in Naples. The case was settled out of court with the theatre management charges dropped on condition that Verdi returned in the autumn to present a revival of Simon Boccanegra. During the legal brouhaha Verdi cast around for an alternative theatre for his opera and noted that a play titled Gustavus III had been given in Rome. He initiated secret negotiations with impresario Jacovacci to premiere his opera Un Ballo in Maschera, his 23rd opera, in that city subject to the approval of the Papal Censor. After some prevarication the censors agreed to accept the principles of the plot and the action, provided the location was removed from Europe to North America at the time of the English domination. In this revised scenario Gustavus became Riccardo Earl of Warwick, Governor of Boston, whilst his secretary became Renato, a Creole. Un Ballo in Maschera was premiered at the Teatro Apollo, Rome, on 17 February 1859 to wide acclaim.

Of all Verdi operas Un Ballo in Maschera is the one most concerned with love and conjugal faithfulness although the theme does also run through the later Don Carlos. No love duet in all Verdi matches that of Riccardo and Amelia in act 2 of the opera as he goes to meet her at the gallows field where she has gone to pick the herb to cure her of the illicit love. The role of Riccardo is a dream for a lyric tenor with good legato, a touch of heft and capacity for vocal brio. It requires a greater degree of vocal elegance than the Duke in Rigoletto whilst also requiring the singer to express the frivolousness of the role’s character which is so clearly expressed in the music. Amelia, the object of Riccardo’s love, requires a lyrico-spinto soprano who can match the tenor for ardent phrasing in the act 2 love duet, cut through the textures and soar above the orchestra in the preceding aria. It is a role that has appealed to some admired singers of Brünnhilde. Add a baritone part with both a lyrically expressive and a dramatically vehement aria, and a low mezzo or contralto as the gypsy fortune-teller, and Caruso’s claims for Il Trovatore begin to sound tame. But Verdi was not satisfied with a quartet of principals; his vision included that for a leggiero-soprano for the role of Riccardo’s page, Oscar. Oscar has a vital part to play in the evolution of the plot. The role requires a light voice of vivacity and lilting musicality and, in a stage production, visual as well as vocal pertness.

Fortunately for the recorded legacy, Un Ballo in Maschera’s consummate melodic music so illuminates the plot that the work has appealed to conductors and singers alike, all keen to set down their interpretations for posterity. The leading opera conductors of the post-Second World War period have taken their interpretation into the studio at least once, as have the leading tenors with the notable exception of Jussi Björling. Enthusiasts who wish to hear his interpretation of a role that suited his voice have to tolerate the acoustics of live performance from the Met in 1940 which has appeared from various sources from time to time. The earliest studio recording to make waves was focused on the soprano Maria Callas rather than her tenor partner Giuseppe Di Stefano. Recorded in 1956 it was the last of five Verdi roles she recorded in the studio for the Columbia label, now part of EMI Classics. Like her recordings of Aida, and the Il Trovatore and Forza del Destino Leonoras, it shows her voice to be really a size too small and vocally inconsistent in the spinto aspect of these roles. That she could, and did, inflect insights into the facets and dilemmas of the characters she was portraying is indisputable and views of these virtues over vocal drawbacks must be personal (EMI 7243 5563200). Callas also features alongside Di Stefano as Riccardo in a live performance under Gavazenni recorded the following year. Her performance on this recording has many admirers (EMI 567918 2). Decca went into the studio to record their first stereo set in 1962 with their Wagner duo of Solti on the rostrum and Birgit Nilsson, their Ring Brünnhilde, more Wagnerian than Verdian, as Amelia. Solti drives the drama far too hard and the only virtues of the recording are the immaculate singing of Bergonzi as Riccardo and Cornell MacNeil’s Renato. Fortunately, Bergonzi recorded the role a second time in 1966 for RCA alongside Leontyne Price, the Verdi lyrico-spinto of her generation, as Amelia. Robert Merrill is strong as Renato, Shirley Verrett musical and characterful as Ulrica the gypsy and Reri Grist pert as Oscar. Although Leinsdorf isn’t the Verdian of ones dreams and the recording not of Decca’s standard, this remains my favourite audio version (RCA GD86645).

Of the three later generation tenors, all recorded the tenor lead in Un Ballo in Maschera. Pavarotti twice recorded Riccardo, a role that suits his voice and character well. His 1970 recording features Renata Tebaldi, rather past her best as Amelia, Sherrill Milnes a strong Renato with Bartoletti, a sympathetic Verdian conducting (Double Decca 460 762-2). His second, in 1982, has Margaret Price as a very graceful Amelia and Renato Bruson a characterful secretary all conducted by Solti who shows more signs of sympathy to the composer than his earlier self. The problem casting of Christa Ludwig as Ulrica and the obvious dubbing on of Bruson’s contribution are drawbacks to an otherwise well recorded and enjoyable version. Domingo's three recordings all find the great tenor in good voice. In the first (1984) he is partnered by the excellent duo of a strong-voiced Martina Arroyo and a resonant Pierro Cappuccilli. The conductor, Ricardo Muti, then supremo of La Scala, hurries the proceedings along rather too fast at times, losing some of the lovely lyricism of the piece albeit gaining dramatic intensity (EMI CMS 5 66510 2). The recording quality of the EMI set is far superior to that found on Domingo's more sensitively sung second version for DG, conducted by that fine Verdian Claudio Abbado. The Amelia of Ricciarelli is one of her best recordings whilst Bruson’s Renato is vocally expressive. If the occluded ill-balanced recording were not enough of a drawback, the casting of the Russian Obraztsova as Ulrica and Edita Gruberova as Oscar are serious misjudgements (DG Double 453 148 2). Domingo’s best audio interpretation and singing of the role of Riccardo is to be found on the 1989 recording under Karajan. However, neither the Amelia of Josephine Barstow nor the Renato of Leo Nucci lies easily on my ear (DG 477 5641). Whilst José Carreras is often considered the weakest of the three tenors, he is by no means over-parted as Riccardo. Montserrat Caballé, whose expressive singing is commendable, partners Carreras, although an ideal duo in bel canto she lacks the ultimate in vocal heft for a fully convincing portrayal of Verdi’s Amelia. Ingvar Wixell as Renato is rather lacking in warm Italianate tone and to cap all Colin Davis’s conducting lacks any feel for Verdi and at times borders on the turgid (Philips 'Duo' 456 316-2). The Teldec recording of 1995 has only the Orchestra and Chorus of Welsh National Opera, the conducting of Carlo Rizzi and the Renato of Vladimir Chernov to commend it. For those who heard Rizzi when he conducted the Welsh National Opera production in 1992, and who want an example of his work, the highlights issue of the Teldec recording has been issued on Warner Apex 2564 61504-2 (review)

As to DVD, at the time of writing two early 1990s recordings have dominated the market. The first features John Schlesinger’s 1990 Salzburg production. This was to have been conducted by Karajan as on the audio recording from DG featured above but he died during rehearsals. Solti, who had been persona non grata during Karajan’s reign at Salzburg, very benevolently took over and saved the day. Thesets by William Dudley are evocative and sumptuous and move the action back to Sweden. Solti was a more sympathetic Verdian by this date than his earlier self and with Barstow giving a well-acted performance and singing far better than on the audio recording this is a version worth considering (review).

A 1991 recording from the Metropolitan Opera, New York features Piero Faggioni’s traditional production. Again set in Sweden it matches that at Salzburg for opulence. Brian Large directs both performances for video. The Met cast of Pavarotti as an elegantly phrased Gustavus, Aprile Millo as a strong-voiced and well characterised Amelia and Harolyn Blackwell a pert Oscar are good Verdian portrayals. As at Salzburg, Florence Quivar is a firm Ulrica and Nucci a not very impressive secretary vocally or visually. Levine is a little heavy-handed with the orchestra at times and often misses out the joy of the lilting melodies (review). Both the above detailed reviews are by colleagues. A more recent, and less traditional production from Leipzig in 2005 has idiomatic conducting from Riccardo Chailly. Although the singing is never less than adequate it is not of the standard of that at Salzburg or the Met (review). As yet I have seen no sign of either of two earlier Pavarotti performances that exist in video form appearing on DVD. The first, from 1980 and recorded by Unitel from the Met, has the tenor alongside Ricciarelli in Elijah Moshinsky’s production with sets by Peter Wexler. He is in lighter, more flexible and elegant voice than the 1991 recording whilst Giuseppe Patané on the rostrum is more sympathetic to his singers than Levine in 1991. Pavarotti appears again in Abbado’s 1986 performance from Vienna that marked his taking on the Music Directorship of the Vienna State Orchestra. The production by Gianfranco De Bosio has Pavarotti alongside Gabriele Lechner as Amelia and other members of the Vienna Company with Cappuccilli guesting as Renato.

After the premiere of Un Ballo in Maschera with no contracts pressing and with their accommodation booked until the end of the Carnival Season, Verdi and Giuseppina did not immediately return to Busseto. Verdi was made an honorary member of the Accademia Filharmonica Romana and the Rome impresario, Jacovacci, attempted to persuade him to sign a contract for a new opera. Verdi was 46 years old and had composed twenty-three operas in the previous twenty years. Although engaged in litigation in Naples he had not really composed for nearly a year. He announced to a small circle of friends, including Jacovacci, that he had given up composing and intended to return to his farm and enjoy the fruits of his labours in a more relaxed manner. But Italian politics, which had not languished during Verdi’s Naples fiasco, were to make demands on his time and also to help, inadvertently, to tempt him to compose opera once more.

Piedmont and its King were seen in England and elsewhere as the only realistic hope for a united Italy. Cavour, playing a longer game than many appreciated visited Napoleon in France. Some wondered as to Cavour’s strategy, after all France had supported the return of the Pope to Rome when Italian hopes of unification had been on the agenda ten years before. His visit resulted in a treaty by which France would go to the aid of Piedmont in the event of Austrian aggression. Napoleon did not give the assurance out of altruism. There would be a pay back in the future. In the meantime Piedmont rapidly rearmed as hundreds of volunteers entered the Kingdom and Cavour sought to provoke Austria to attack. Austria issued an ultimatum that France considered an aggressive act and French troops were despatched. War technically started on 26 April 1859. Gounod’s Faust had been premiered in Paris a month before. The battle of Magenta was followed by that of Solferino on 24 June, involving three hundred and ten thousand men. Neither battle was decisive but there were popular demonstrations in favour of Napoleon and Vittorio Emmanuele in many towns and states. An armistice and then a treaty between France and Austria, that Cavour considered half a loaf, was signed. Piedmont had little say in the matter and Cavour resigned. Whether concerned about the dangers from war, the political uncertainties or for other reasons, Verdi and Giuseppina were married secretly on 29 August in the Piedmontese village of Collonges-sous-Saléve, near the Swiss border of the province of Savoy.

In August, Verdi’s home state, The Duchy of Parma, had voted first to join with neighbouring Modena and then Piedmont. Verdi was elected to the Assembly in Parma that ratified the vote on 15 September and he went to Turin, as part of a delegation, to meet Vittorio Emmanuele with the petition. He also visited Cavour, in retirement on his estate. The statesman was recalled by Vittorio Emmanuele and manoeuvred Napoleon’s non-intervention while Piedmont merged Northern and Central Italy into one state. The pay back to Napoleon was the ceding to France of the provinces of French-speaking Savoy and Nice. Garibaldi, although an ardent Republican, determined that Italy would be wholly united and with a small body of men began fighting in Sicily before marching, with an ever-increasing army, to Naples whilst proclaiming he would go on to Rome and make it the capital of a united Italy. Afraid of Garibaldi’s republicanism Piedmont, with French approval, annexed some Papal States. Garibaldi, in an act of altruism, although not without rancour, ceded his conquests to the unification refusing any honour or reward. Although still without Papal Rome and occupied Venice Cavour called for elections to a National Parliament. At Cavour’s personal insistence that his presence, as a pre-eminent Italian, would bring lustre to the Parliament’s proceedings, Verdi stood and was elected as a Deputy. With his estate to manage and Parliamentary duties in Turin, opera composition was, in the immediate future, very much on the back-burner. But Verdi was to live for another forty years and if circumstances, situation and not least the fee were to his liking, he would be tempted to the theatre again. The resultant five new operas, two major revisions and the great Requiem are covered in part four of this survey of Verdi’s life and operatic works.

Robert J Farr

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4

 



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CDAccord
Cameo Classics
Centaur
Hallé
Hortus
Lyrita
Nimbus
Northern Flowers
Redcliffe
Sheva
Talent
Toccata Classics


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