Verdi wrote songs throughout
his life. In fact before he had written
his first opera he had a set of songs
published. The Sei Romanze for
voice and piano were printed in Milan
when Verdi was 25. They are charming
salon pieces, liriche da camera,
written for the extensive amateur market.
In them we can detect Verdi testing
his powers at setting dramatic verse.
Throughout his life, his songs would
stick to this format: highly developed
salon pieces where the composer would
try out ideas. We can often detect echoes
or pre-echoes of the operas contemporaneous
with the songs.
Collins Classics originally
issued this recital by Dennis O’Neill
in 1998 and the songs selected range
from the Sei Romanze through
to Stornello, written in 1868,
and Ave Maria, written in the
late 1870s and published in 1880. As
such we get a good overview of Verdi’s
I must confess to feelings
of dissatisfaction with Verdi’s songs,
not so much for what they are as for
what they are not. Apart from Stornello,
which evokes the world of Wolf’s Italienisches
Liederbuch, these pieces remain
firmly in the salon and do little to
stretch the genre; the world of the
German lied and the art-song is a long
way away. The songs never really approach
the level of his operatic masterpieces.
Verdi seems to have been content to
regard them as exercises and sketches.
But if we can get away
from this longing for what the songs
might have been, there is much to enjoy.
All are charming and effective and many
are much more than this. One of the
chief delights is to relate the songs
to the operas that were being written
at the time. L’esule and La
seduzione belong to the period when
Verdi was writing Oberto; L’esule
is virtually a miniature operatic aria.
Following the triumph
of Nabucco in Milan in 1845,
Verdi gained a number of aristocratic
supporters and Chi I bei di m’adduce
ancora was written for one of them.
A setting of Goethe’s Erster Verlust
it was written for the album of Marchesa
Sophie de Medici. The song contains
interesting pre-echoes of future operatic
In 1847 he published
a further set of six romances. Though
lighter in style than the 1838 set,
these are altogether more sophisticated.
The concluding Brindisi exists
in two versions, the autograph score
and the published version; the autograph
is brasher and more exuberant. Luckily
O’Neill gives us both versions.
dates from 1847 when Verdi was in London
for I Masnadieri; the song’s
text being supplied by Manfredo Maggioni,
the resident librettist at His Majesty’s
Theatre. In 1851 the aria was adapted
for a French performance of Rigoletto
in Brussels when it was given to Maddalena
as she pleads with her brother for the
written as part of a song-album that
was assembled for the librettist Piave.
In it Verdi sets a long eleven-syllable
verse, a metre which he typically used
for some of the finest lyrical gems
in Aida, Otello and Falstaff.
The same verse structure is used in
the final song in the sequence, Ave
Maria. It is an operatic romanza
despite its spiritual character.
Dennis O’Neill is an
experienced Verdi singer and this experience
tells in his performance of these songs.
All are performed with a gorgeous Italianate
tone and a good feeling for the phrasing
of the songs. Unfortunately this experience
tells in other ways. When the voice
is put under pressure it develops a
notable beat and, supported only by
piano rather than orchestra, this can
become intrusive. Also, it must be added,
that O’Neill’s mature voice is no longer
quite up to the fioriture required
in some of the songs and the results
can sound effortful. But this must be
balanced by his insights into the songs
themselves and by his gorgeous singing
in the quieter moments, of which there
Running time is only
57 minutes so it is a shame that neither
of the sets of Romances are performed
complete. Four songs are taken from
the 1838 set and five from the 1845
set (plus the alternative version of
I can’t quite recommend
this disc unreservedly but it has many
strengths. O’Neill is one of our finest
Verdi interpreters and as such, this
recital has much to commend it.
see also reviews by
Howell and Jonathan