Happy birthday – buon compleanno - Giuseppe Verdi, born on this date in 1813, he died in 1901.
Verdi gave the world twenty-eight operas, beginning with Oberto in 1839, and ending with Falstaff in 1893. His first triumph was Nabucco – a setting of the old testament story of Nebuchadnezzar and the lost tribes of Israel. If it doesn’t sound terribly operatic, read it again. Blood, guts, war and patriotism. And from Nabucco we have the Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves – Va pensiero sull ali’ dorate - fly, thought, on wings of gold:
Note the big tune here is sung in unison. Verdi wanted everyone to get the message. Although set thousands of years before Christ, Nabucco and its splendid choruses are cries for Italian liberation from the Austrians and the French. Everyone in Verdi’s audiences understood that. You’ll also notice in this clip that the chorus is encored in performance at the Met. This is generally done, and in Italy the audience sings along.
Twenty-eight operas in over forty years isn’t a lot compared to Vivaldi or Donizetti. But can you hum Vivaldi’s Olimpiade or Donizetti’s Don Sebastien? Giuseppe Verdi gave us Rigoletto, La Traviata, Il Trovatore, Aida (surely the most perfect opera by an Italian composer?) Otello and Don Carlo. Each continue to give me, and I hope give you, life-changing moments on recordings and on the stage.
To read more about Verdi, Mary Jane Phillips-Matz’s magisterial Verdi is definitive. There are fine books by Julian Budden and Francis Toye. Or you could cruise around YouTube or the library and…listen.