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ClassicsOnline Home » VERDI: Overtures, Vol. 1
"Played with robust energy and much panache... the woodwind detail is a delight."
By Michel Parouty
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 nineteenth
century. He was born in 1813 at Le Roncole, near Busseto, the son of a tavern-keeper, and
distinguished himself locally in music. The encouragement and patronage of his future
father-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, a
reasonably successful one, was in 1839 with Oberto, conte di San Bonifacio. This was
followed, 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. His
early 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, rè d'ltalia (Victor Emanuel, King of Italy), and much of his work was
susceptible to patriotic interpretation. His long association with the singer Giuseppina
Strepponi led to their marriage in 1859, the year of Un
ballo in maschera. He completed his last opera, Falstaff, in 1893, four years before her death, but
felt himself unequal to further Shakespearean operas then proposed. He died while staying
in 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 a
libretto by Francesco Maria Piave based on the French drama Le pasteur au L'évangile et le foyer by Emile
Souvestre and Eugène Bourgeois, Stiffelio
was not calculated to appeal to a Catholic audience, dealing, as it does, with the
dilemmas facing a married Protestant clergyman, whose wife has an affair with a younger
man, finally to be forgiven in words from the New Testament, a further source of
objection. A revised version made use of much the same music, with a text now set in the
time of the Crusaders. The returning knight Aroldo is married to Mina, daughter of
Egberto, who is unfaithful to her husband. The action takes place in the castle of
Egberto, 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 in
Rimini in 1857.
Il corsaro (The Corsair),
again with a libretto by Piave, is based on the poem by Byron and was first performed in
Trieste in 1848. Verdi showed relatively little immediate interest in the project, to
which he was urged by Francesco Lucca, a rival to Verdi's usual publisher Ricordi. The
opera was coolly received and soon disappeared from the repertoire. The overture is stormy
enough, 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 and
is 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 Corrado
then 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 Cammarano
based on Schiller's play Kabale und Liebe.
The action is set in seventeenth century Tyrol, where Luisa Miller is wooed by the
huntsman 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 her
father, while the Count's son, whose real name is Rodolfo, is to marry his cousin. Luisa
is tricked into denying her love for Rodolfo, who eventually finds means and opportunity
to poison both her and himself. The overture, a true sinfonia, gives importance to the
clarinet in a pastoral movement that sets the opening village scene, where Luisa's
birthday is being celebrated.
Piave based the libretto of La traviata on the play La dame aux camélias 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, without
explaining her motives to her lover. The couple are only re-united when Violetta is on her
death-bed. The Prelude opens tenderly with the theme that returns in the Prelude to Act
III, when Violetta, lonely and abandoned, waits for death. The theme that follows is her
plea for Alfredo's love from the second act, where she has resolved to leave him, for his
own good. The opening Prelude leads to the glitter and brilliance of a party at Violetta's
house, while the later Prelude leads, instead, to a scene of loneliness, illness and
death. The opera was a fiasco at its first performance, with a Violetta who in stature
seemed hardly likely to die of consumption, but a later production in Venice, recast and
transposing the action to the period of Louis XIV, won immediate success there and
Voltaire's play Alzire
provided Cammarano with the basis for his libretto for Verdi's Alzira, first staged in Naples in 1845. The action is
set in sixteenth century Peru, where the Spanish Governor Alvaro is released from
captivity by the Inca leader Zamoro, lover of Alzira. Alvaro is succeeded by his son
Gusmano, 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 overture
starts with woodwind and drums alone, an exotic touch to a work of exotic setting.
Un ballo in maschera, based
on Eugène Scribe's libretto Gustave III by
Antonio Somma, suffered at the hands of the censors, who objected to its theme of
regicide. The action was then transferred from the Sweden of Gustav III to the Boston of
Riccardo, Count of Warwick, at the end of the seventeenth century. It was originally
intended for Naples, where the killing of a king aroused very real anxieties. When no
agreement could be reached there, the opera was transferred to Rome and was first
performed there in 1859. Recent productions have returned the opera from colonial America
to eighteenth century Sweden. The story which caused such problems deals with the love
affair between the king and the wife of one of his hitherto loyal supporters, who now
joins conspirators plotting against the king's life and finally kills him. The short
Prelude makes use of the theme of the chorus of loyal supporters of the king, the theme of
the conspirators and the king's love theme.
Oberto, conte di San Bonifacio,
first performed at La Scala in 1839, was Verdi's second opera, based, it seems, on his
earlier Rocester. The libretto was by Antonio Piazza, revised by Temistocle Solera, who
was attached to La Scala, and the work won enough immediate success to lead to a further
commission from the opera-house and publication by Ricordi. The action is set in
thirteenth century Bassano, in the castle of Ezzelino, where Ezzelino's sister Cuniza is
to marry Riccardo, Count of Salinguerra, who has seduced and betrayed Leonora, daughter of
Oberto. Both seek justice, supported by Cuniza, but although Riccardo agrees to marry
Leonora, he is bound in honour to accept a challenge from Oberto, whom he kills, then
forced to leave Italy for perpetual exile. In the opening Sinfonia chords are followed by
a lyrical andante and a busy allegro, introducing the first scene, where Cuniza and her
servants and friends prepare to receive her future husband, Riccardo.
The Egyptian opera Aida,
written to celebrate the opening of the Cairo opera-house in 1871, takes its plot from an
outline by the French egyptologist Mariette Bey, made into a libretto by Camille du Locle
and translated into Italian by Antonio Ghislanzoni. The heroine of the title, daughter of
the King of Ethiopia, is enslaved and serves the Egyptian Princess Amneris. Both of them
love Radames, Captain of the Guards, who is condemned to death for unwitting betrayal of
his country to the Ethiopians and dies immured in a tomb with his beloved Aida, who joins
him in death, while Amneris, above the sealed tomb, calls on Isis. The Prelude makes use
of a theme associated with Aida and the theme of the Egyptian priests who will later
condemn Radames, suggesting the conflict that will arise between the two.
Attila, an adaptation of the
play Attila, König der Hunnen of Zacharias Werner by Temistocle Solera, with additions by
Piave, was first staged at La Fenice in 1846. Rightly or wrongly it had a topical
patriotic appeal, particularly in the words of the Roman Ezio, whose conduct is, to say
the least, duplicitous. The leader of the Huns, the scourge of God, Attila, is forbidden
entry to Rome by the aged Pope Leo and stabbed to death on the night of his wedding to the
Italian heroine Odabella. The political implications of this were strangely ignored by the
Austrian censors. The Prelude prepares the scene, including later themes, with that of the
Druids' warning to Attila of impending doom.
I vespri siciliani,
originally Les vêpres siciliennes, was
first performed in its French version in Paris in 1855. The libretto is by Eugène Scribe
and Charles Duveyrier and deals with the massacre in Palermo in 1282 of the ruling French.
The opera presents the dilemma between love and duty of the Sicilian patriot Arrigo, who
loves the Austrian Duchess Elena, whose brother has been imprisoned and executed by the
French, and finds, to his dismay, that he is in fact the illegitimate son of the French
governor of Sicily, Guido di Monforte. He saves the life of Monforte from the
conspirators, who have been urged on by the agent provocateur Procida, now imprisoned with
Elena. The latter is only released when Arrigo acknowledges his parentage but the wedding
bells for his marriage with Elena are to serve as a signal for a general uprising and
massacre of the French, as the curtain falls. The opening Sinfonia makes use of several
themes from the opera, including the scene between Arrigo and Monforte where the latter
realises who is his father, the music of the prison scene and the music associated with
the final massacre.
Hungarian State Opera Orchestra
The Hungarian State Opera was established in Budapest in 1884
and has enjoyed an illustrious history as one of the principal musical institutions of the
country. The orchestra of the State Opera occupies a similar position, with a
distinguished past also in the concert-hall, as well as, in the present century, in the
Pier Giorgio Morandi
Pier Giorgio Morandi was born in the Italian town of Biella in
1958. After graduation from the Milan Giuseppe Verdi Conservatory in 1979 and triumph in
the La Scala oboe competition, he was invited by Claudio Abbado to become principal oboist
at La Scala, a position he held for ten years. In 1985 he studied conducting with
Ferdinand Leitner at the Salzburg Mozarteum and in the two following years worked as
assistant at La Scala to Riccardo Muti, later serving as assistant for two years to the
conductor Giuseppe Patane in a number of important operatic productions and recordings.
His subsequent career has brought engagements as a conductor in the opera-house and
concert-hall throughout Italy and as far afield as Japan.
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VERDI: Overtures, Vol. 1