Venue: The Metropolitan Opera, Lincoln Center, New York, NY
Performers: Conductor: Marco Armiliato, Gilda: Lisette Oropesa, Maddalena: Nancy Fabiola Herrera, Duke of Mantua: Vittorio Grogolo, Rigoletto: George Gagnidze
Verdi’s opera, Rigoletto, was based on the play, “Le roi s’amuse” by Victor Hugo. The original play was about Frances I, a king of France who was basically a player and womanizer. Because of this, the play was banned after its first show. When Verdi chose this play he knew it was a risk that the opera might not be approved but went ahead with it and told his librettist, Francesco Piave, to find an influential person to get permission to use “Le roi s’amuse”. At the time, Austria controlled most of northern Italy and when they heard about Verdi’s opera, they considered it scandalous and refused to let it go on because it showed royalty in a bad light. After much arguing and negotiations, the opera was allowed to go on only after some changes were made. The king was now a duke from an extinct dukedom so no one could take offense and the names of the characters had to be changed.
The opera is about a jester, Rigoletto, who makes fun of the courtiers to make the duke laugh as that is his job. The duke is a womanizer who goes after any woman. In the opera, the duke seduces Rigoletto’s daughter and he vows to get revenge. However, his revenge backfires and his daughter ends up dead instead. Verdi’s Rigoletto is similar to Mozart’s Don Giovanni. The first act is in the style of comic opera so for that act at least, I am expecting mostly dialogue or recitatives and simple music. Because of all the drama and violence, I am expecting most of the music to be in minor key for the rest of the opera and many contrasting instruments playing loudly in some cases to show drama.
Budden, Julian. The Operas of Verdi. Vol. 1. New York: Praeger, 1973. Print.
Baldini, Gabriele, Fedele D’Amico, and Roger Parker. The Story of Giuseppe Verdi: Oberto to Un Ballo in Maschera. Cambrige: Cambridge University Publishing, 1980. Print.
Various musical pieces of Otello by Giuseppe Verdi
Venue: Metropolitan Opera House, Manhattan, NY
Performer: Alain Altinoglu, conductor
Giuseppe Verdi was an Italian composer during Romantic era. Verdi was born in Le Roncole in Parma, Italy, in October 10th, 1813. (Berger, 70) In 1879, Verdi, together with libretto writer Arrigo Boito, created a 4-act opera called Otello. As the title suggests, Otello is based on a famous play Othello by Shakespeare, whom Verdi considered one of his favorite writers ever. Completed in 1886, Otello premiered at La Scala in Milan, one of the most historic opera houses in the world, on February 5th, 1887. Otello was one of the last operas that he’s composed before death, and is considered by many to be his finest tragic opera. (Berger, 17)
Verdi’s life is marked by a revolutionary idea of unification of Italy. Just after Verdi was born, in 1815, the French empire withdrew from Italy. After the end of occupation by Napoleon’s French empire, Italy was now free from the French. However, this did not transition to a peaceful era. Italy, then a collection of regional kingdoms, was not ready to unite itself as a nation. (Berger, 26) Young Verdi, growing up in Le Roncole, northern town of Italy, was influenced by these turbulent times, and wrote operas by observing and reflecting a series of events that happened during his life.
Perhaps this is why his operas possess full of strong emotions, as Verdi himself experienced radical changes around him that he saw growing up. Later in life, Verdi was actually one of the delegates who presented the vote for the unification of Italy. (Berger, 67) When Otello was premiered in La Scala in 1887, many people were surprised at how genuinely Italian the play was. Otello’s musical pieces were not imitations of Wagner’s or any other famous composers at the time This also promoted a sense of Italian national identity, which is one of the main characteristics of Classical music era, and of Verdi’s life. (Berger, 91) There is no doubt that Otello’s musical pieces were influenced by Verdi’s life and what Italy was going through at the time, the time when the country needed a source of unity and a culture that they could identify with and be proud of, and Verdi was successful in doing so.
Before watching the play (Part I of the assignment)
Because of the fact that he was from Romantic music era, I assume that his pieces from Otello, such as Esultate!, Ave Maria, and Willow Song, contain characteristics of Romantic music genre. That is, the pieces would most likely emphasize personal and national identity, free of form, passionate and dramatic emotions, natural beauty, and program music. The musical pieces by Verdi, combined with Shakespearian tragedy elements of emotions, further enrich the quality of the play.
The three pieces stood out the most in the play, Esultante!, Ave Maria, and Willow Song. Although different, have one similarity that I find intriguing; all three evoke dramatic emotions, which is a typical characteristic in Romantic musical era. For example, Esultante!, literally meaning rejoice!, is a victory song for the Otello’s navy in the beginning of Act I. As one can imagine, the dynamics of the piece is loud, in a major key, with bright and cheerful tone. The pieces Ave Maria and Willow Song are particularly similar to each other, in a sense that they are both presented in the same scene by a same character. Both pieces, sung by Desdemona, Otello’s wife, express her emotions at the time of the scene, which seem to be lonely and gloomy. The fact that they are sung almost consecutively gives the audience feeling that they are connected to each other, telling a story from one to the other. The particular thing that can be mentioned is that both are arias; they have lyrical characteristics.
After watching the play (Part II of the assignment)
The one thing that I regret not doing was the fact I did not fully learn what the basic storyline of the play is before going to watch the opera. I definitely wished I had researched more about the actual plot of Otello. Since I had never been to opera before, I didn’t now how the opera would be like. I assumed that it would be very east to figure out the overall plot of the play just be observing the actions and musical pieces, but I was pleasantly surprised. As the scenes went by, there were many times where I was a bit lost during the scenes, wondering what they were saying or doing. Obviously, the actors all spoke in Italian, which I had no idea of, and speed of the scenes were very quick, which also gave me a hard time trying to dissect each scene. If I had read the overall plot of the play, what each scene is about, how the actors are going to act and sing, the opera would’ve been a much better experience for me.
Berger, William. Verdi with a Vengeance: An Energetic Guide to the Life and Complete Works of the King of Opera. New York: Vintage, 2000. Print.