History : Jan-Feb 2017
6 JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2017 PROFILES Giuseppe Verdi: The Sounds of Freedom Born alongside Italy’s press for nationhood, Verdi’s operas provided Italians with the music that expressed the passion for their cause and became an important part of Italy’s national identity. SCORE OF LA TRAVIATA MUSEO TEATRALE ALLA SCALA, MILAN “La Traviata last night, fiasco. Is it my fault or the fault of the singers? Time will tell.”—Verdi, 1853 A writer named Gianrinaldo Carli told a story that be- came famous in Italy in the 1760s: A stranger walks into a cafe in Milan, and the pa- trons ask if he is a foreigner. No, he replies. Then you must be Milanese, they say, and once again he replies in the negative. Scratching their heads, they tell him that if he is not Milanese, he must be foreign, to which he replies, “I am Italian . . . and an Italian in Italy can never be foreign.” In the 18th century, the Italian penin- sula was fractured into parts controlled by different nations. A century later, the notion of a united Italy had evolved into a battle for independence, pitting Italy’s revolutionaries against the might of Austria and the Papal States. Although soldiers and statesmen played a key role in what unfolded, Giuseppe Verdi’s music provided the soundtrack to the desire for independence. Through his many works, Verdi reflected, and even shaped, the struggle for Italian unification known as Il Risorgimento: the Resurgence. Italy’s fragmentation had deep roots in its past. The collapse of the Western Ro- man Empire in the Middle Ages broke Italy into city-states that took center stage during the European Renaissance. In the early modern period, central Italy was dominated by the papa- cy, while the rest of the Italian peninsula fell under the control of foreign powers, such as Spain and France. After the final defeat of Napoleon in 1815, Austria strengthened its grip on northern Italy. At the same time a surge in anti-imperialism and nationalism be- gan to grip Europe. Chafing under the yoke of Austrian control, many Italians yearned for a nation of their own and fought for it from the 1840s until achiev- ing full independence in 1870. Talent and Tragedy Verdi’s life spanned two ages and two Italys. He was born in 1813 in the small duchy of Parma, at the time under Napo- leonic rule, and died in 1901 in Milan, then the commercial capital of the newly in- dependent Italian nation. The son of an innkeeper, Verdi pos- sessed an immense musical talent that could not be overlooked; by age 12 he served as the organist for his village’s church. He continued his education in Busseto and then Milan, the intellectual and operatic center of Italy. At the age of 26, Verdi’s first opera, Oberto, premiered at Milan’s La Scala in November 1839. Masterpiece Upon Masterpiece 1838-1840 Despite professional successes, Giuseppe Verdi endures personal tragedies, losing his wife and two children over three years. 1841 To overcome his grief, Verdi throws himself into a new opera, Nabucco, which will debut in 1842 and begin a comeback for the composer. 1871 Commissioned for the opening of the royal opera house, Aida debuts in Egypt and will become one of the world’s most popular operas. 1901 Verdi dies in Milan. At his funeral, the great Italian conductor Arturo Toscanini leads an orchestra through Verdi’s greatest pieces. SCALA, FLORENCE 1851-1853 Years of brilliance: Verdi debuts Rigoletto, Il Trovatore, and La Traviata. All three rank among his best loved and lasting works.
March April 2017