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ClassicsOnline Home » VERDI: Overtures, Vol. 2
"Played with robust energy and much panache... the woodwind detail is a delight."
"...the playing truly Italiante, the interpretations well-calculated."
Giuseppe Verdi (1813 - 1901)
Overtures Volume 2
Il finto Stanislao (Un giorno di regno): Sinfonia
Don Carlo: Prelude to Act III
Giovanna d'Arco: Sinfonia
I masnadieri: Prelude
La battaglia di Legnano: Sinfonia
I due Foscari: Prelude
La forza del destino: 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, Barezzi's daughter, and their 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, re 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.
Ernani, with a libretto by Francesco Maria Piave derived from Victor Hugo's play Hernani, is set in Spain in 1519. The opera was first staged at La Fenice in Venice in 1844. The bandit Ernani loves Elvira, niece and betrothed of Don Ruy Gomez de Silva, from whom she hopes Ernani will rescue her. The king, Don Carlo, declares his love for Elvira, and he and Ernani quarrel in Elvira's chamber, to be discovered there by Silva, who demands vengeance, until he discovers the identity of Don Carlo. The king pretends that Ernani is one of his followers, although the latter is anxious to take revenge for the death of his father at the hands of Don Carlo. In a story of some complication in which Spanish honour has a great part to play, Ernani and Elvira are eventually united, but Ernani is then forced to kill himself, fulfilling an earlier pledge he had made to Silva, who survives to enjoy his final triumph. The signal that tells Ernani he must die, as Silva had earlier specified, is a horn-call, and this is heard at the start of the brief slow Prelude to the opera, used here to frame an extended melody.
The title Il finto Stanislao (The Pretended Stanislaus) was that of a libretto offered to Verdi by Bartolomeo Merelli, after the success of Oberto, conte di San Bonifacio at La Scala. The libretto by Felice Romani had been used twenty years before at La Scala, Milan, and was now renamed Un giorno di regno (King for a Day) for a staging of the new setting by Verdi in 1840. The opera is set in the castle of Baron Kelbar, near Brest, in the year 1733. Stanislaus, who makes no appearance, was the historical pretender to the throne of Poland, and while he was on his way there in secret it was necessary for another to assume his place in France, so that the suspicions of his enemies should not be aroused. The Cavaliere Belfiore impersonates Stanislaus, which leads to misunderstandings with the girl to whom he has promised marriage, the Marchesa del Poggio. All eventually ends happily for the lovers, as it must in a story of this kind. It is preceded by a lively Sinfonia that makes use of themes from the opera, including that of the final celebratory chorus.
Don Carlo, sometimes known by its French title Don Carlos, is based on the play of the latter name by Schiller. A French libretto was started by Joseph Méry and completed by Camille du Locle, subsequently to be translated into Italian by Achille de Lauzières and Angelo Zanardini. The earlier five-act version of the opera was in French and was performed at the Paris Opéra in 1867 on the occasion of the Paris Exposition of that year. A four-act Italian version was staged first in Milan in 1884 and a five-act Italian version three years later. The play concerns the love of Don Carlo, son of Philip II of Spain, for Elisabeth de Valois, to whom he was betrothed, but who, for reasons of state, has been married to his father. The continuing love of Don Carlo for the woman who is now his step-mother and his interest in the pursuit of a more tolerant Spanish policy in the Netherlands, coupled with the jealous love of Princess Eboli and the intervention and self-sacrifice of his friend Rodrigo, cause difficulties that it takes the ghost of the old Emperor Charles V to solve in an improbable final scene. The original ballet music that opened Act III in the French version of the opera was later replaced by an orchestral prelude based on music from the first act, where Don Carlo sees Elisabeth for the first time, as he visits the French court incognito.
The La Scala librettist Temistocle Solera had recourse to Schiller for the text of Giovanna d'Arco, an Italian derivative of Die Jungfrau von Orleans. The opera was first staged in Milan in 1845. Its plot, true neither to history nor to Schiller, deals with the brief career of Joan of Arc in leading the French against the English armies, her ambivalent rejection of earthly love and final death in battle. The Sinfonia that introduces the first act moves forward to a dramatic climax before a central Andante pastorale, suggesting the heroine's earlier pastoral activities, followed by a final Allegro.
Rigoletto, based on Victor Hugo's Le roi s'amuse with a libretto by Piave, was written for La Fenice in Venice and was first mounted there in 1851. Censors intervened, as work on the opera was in progress, leading to a change of setting from the French court to sixteenth century Mantua. The court jester Rigoletto, deformed in body and in mind, abets the unscrupulous Duke in his amours, but suffers the abduction and ruin of his own daughter, seen as the fulfilment of a curse placed upon him and his master by the father of a girl the Duke has wronged. Rigoletto seeks revenge on the Duke, whose murder he plots, only to have his own daughter killed in place of her seducer. The opening Prelude presents the father's curse, the malediction that will bring disaster to another father, Rigoletto himself.
Verdi's first great success came in 1842 with the production at La Scala of his opera Nabucco, with a libretto by Temistocle Solera and the part of Abigaille, supposed elder daughter of the Babylonian Emperor of the title, Nebuchadnezzar, sung by the composer's later mistress and wife Giuseppina Strepponi. The Italian libretto was later revealed as based on a French original. It deals with the love of the captive Fenena, daughter of Nabucco, and the Israelite soldier Ismaele, in Jerusalem, and the jealous rivalry of Abigaille. The action continues in Babylon, with the Jews now in captivity, but to be set free by Fenena, a Jewish convert. Matters go from bad to worse with blasphemous claims from Nabucco and his madness, allowing Abigaille to resume power. Nabucco's final return to sanity and his conversion, with the suicide of Abigaille, ensure a triumphantly happy ending. The Overture uses themes from the opera, including the topically patriotic Va, pensiero.
Schiller's play Die Räuber was the source of Count Andrea Maffei's libretto for Verdi's I masnadieri, a work to be staged at Her Majesty's Theatre in London in 1847 with a distinguished cast that included Jenny Lind. Set in eighteenth century Germany, I masnadieri deals with the fortunes and misfortunes of Carlo, elder son of Count Massimiliano Moor, disinherited through the machinations of his wicked younger brother Francesco and leading the bandits of the title. When it seems that finally matters may be put to rights, he kills his beloved cousin Amalia, rather than allow her to share the degraded position that he now occupies as an outlaw. The Prelude opens with a dramatic contrast of dynamics and an ominous figure for the timpani, leading to an expressive cello solo and a final climax, before the curtain rises to reveal the hero, Carlo, reading Plutarch and expressing his dissatisfaction with modern life.
I masnadieri was immediately preceded by the Shakespearean Macbeth, with a libretto by Piave based on Verdi's own prose version of the story. The opera was written for Florence in 1847 and closely follows the outline of the original play, with certain necessary omissions. Shakespeare's three witches are replaced by three groups of six or more and these open the action with their prophecy of Macbeth's future greatness. The Prelude makes particular use of motifs and themes associated with Lady Macbeth, in particular the music that introduces the scene in which she walks in her sleep, expressing remorse for her crimes. Martial elements appear, suggesting the events that lead to Macbeth's usurpation of power and his final defeat.
Salvatore Cammarano was the librettist of La battaglia di Legnano, with its medieval setting, the defeat of Barbarossa suggesting the defeat of Italy's contemporary enemies. The first performance of the opera took place in Rome in 1849 and was greeted with wild patriotic enthusiasm. The Lombard League is preparing to fight Barbarossa. Against this drama, which ends in Lombard victory, is the private drama of the two friends and patriots Arrigo and Rolando, the former once the lover of Lida, the latter's wife. Misunderstandings between the two men are finally resolved, as Arrigo dies a hero's death in the service of Italy. The opening Sinfonia makes use of the march of the Lombard army, with a central Andante that uses material later appearing in the last scene of Act II, where Arrigo writes a final letter to his mother.
Set in 1457 in Venice, I due Foscari is derived, by Piave, from the play by Byron, The Two Foscari. Jacopo Foscari, son of the old Doge, is condemned to exile, a verdict endorsed by his father, who puts duty before love of his son, in spite of the pleas of Jacopo's wife Lucrezia. The perpetrator of the crime for which Jacopo has been unjustly condemned is discovered, but too late. Jacopo, about to leave for exile, has died, and now his father is urged by members of the Council of Ten to relinquish the power that he has, in this case, so unwillingly exercised. As he divests himself of the trappings of office, he too falls down dead. The Prelude sets the scene, its anxious opening section followed by a theme associated with Jacopo's mood of despair. The opera was first performed in Rome in 1844 and was well received.
La forza del destino, first performed in St. Petersburg in 1862, was based by Piave on the play Don Alvaro o la fuerza del sino by Angel Saavedra, Duke of Rivas. It was revised for performance in Milan in 1869. The complicated plot traces the working of destiny in the fate of the heroine Leonora, initially parted from her lover Don Alvaro, unwitting cause of her father's death and the object of the vengeful pursuit of Leonora's brother, Don Carlo. This last, in his own death, having provoked Alvaro, now a religious, to a duel, brings about the death of his sister, whom he stabs, and Alvaro is finally left to suffer alone, although in the original version he takes his own life. The Sinfonia introduces some of the most important themes and motifs from the opera. Brass and bassoons announce the fate motif, followed by an agitated theme associated with the destiny of Leonora, an Andantino that returns in Alvaro's encounter with Carlo in the fourth act and Leonora's second act prayer and her subsequent duet with the Padre Guardiano, the Father Superior of the religious house where she has taken refuge. This overture was written for the revised version of the opera.
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 recording studio.
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. 2