Guiseppe Verdi was born in the Romanticism period, and was greatly honored as one of the most famous Italian opera composers in his time. The pieces I will analyze are “Ad una stella”(To a star), “Lo spazzacamino”(The chimney-sweep), “Il tramonto”(The Sunset), and “Brindisi”(Toast).
After reading American Theological Inquiry, I become aware that Verdi had not leaded a delighted life because he witnessed the death of his wife and children in his middle age. Since then, he alienated himself from the Catholic Church as he was not able to acquire relief from the religious practice. Verdi’s operas are known for their outstanding conflicts, as Verdi stated, “There is one thing the public will not tolerate in the theater: boredom.” Through the conflicts, Verdi’s operas were notable in stimulating excitement, joy or sadness. Verdi is also known for his unique techniques in organizing most of his reputable operas.
One similarity among these four operas is the accompaniment—piano. “Ad na stella” has an andante tempo in contrast to “Brindisi” and “Lo spazzacamino” which have allegro tempo and a theme of joyful celebration. “Il tramonto” has relatively long libretto, in which it depicts the scenery of countryside to emphasize peace and quietness, yet the theme is sadness because the young lady has lost her lover, and the last part of the opera focus on describing her melancholy.
American Theological Inquiry. Jul2012, Vol. 5 Issue 2, p59-65. 7p.
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.