There's no composer that says "opera" like Verdi. Join us for the second part of our two week series as we hear Verdi's take on Shakespeare, Egyptian princesses, and perhaps the grandest requiem ever written. Post your thoughts on the show here and your comment might be read on air. Plus keep reading for a special note from Bill on how he researched the show.
A Note From Bill
I'd have to say my favorite discovery this week was Garry Wills' book, "Verdi's Shakespeare" which is as wonderfully informed as everything I've ever read from Professor Wills, and in addition to wonderful quotes from Verdi's letters about how he wanted various passages sung (very detailed and extremely knowing as well as demanding) Wills also answers some questions I'd never thought to ask — like, "Why did Shakespeare write so much more for men than women?" Well, mostly cause it wasn't women who were playing those roles, it was twelve year-old boys, who gifted as they were, might not have been up to learning the six or seven hundred lines Shakespeare wrote for his leading characters, but could learn two hundred and fifty or three hundred. Also, the boys frequently doubled other roles, which meant that Lady Macbeth couldn't be on stage when the lad was taking on another role.
In addition to Julian Budden's three volumes on the Verdi operas, which is terrific and very complete, but almost too much so for me to use on the air, I found a lot of help from William Berger's "Verdi With a Vengeance", which manages to pack a tremendous amount of information into one volume. He's also very knowing, frequently funny, sometimes appealingly catty.
In addition, I used the Grove Dictionary article, which is terrific and in most libraries, and Mary Jane Phillips Matz magisterial one-volume biography. About four years ago I got the nicest e-mail from Ms. Phillips Matz. She had moved back to the US and had taken a liking to Exploring Music. I wrote back to her but didn't go to visit. I was a fool. She lived about a mile and a half from my apartment. Sadly, she died this past January. And so, our ten hours of Verdi had the benefit of her scholarship, but I never got to sit down with her and ask some of the hundreds of questions that came to my mind when I researching the shows.
I should also mention the IMSLPetrucci music library which is fabulous. All the Verdi operas are on line, in piano/vocal and full score. I used all of them a great deal. For me, the fastest way to get to know a piece of music is to read it — the score — it's quicker and deeper than listening to recordings or just reading about the opera.
Finally, I borrowed a copy of "The Opera Lover's Companion", by Charles Osborne, who still lives in London at the last report — Osborne has short (3-5page) pieces on almost all the operas presented in an intelligent, lively style that can give a newcomer a feel for the stories and in a couple of cases, I quoted from his book in recording the shows.
Oh, and I can't neglect the record library at WQXR, which is exceedingly well-supplied due to George Jellinek, who hosted a program called The Vocal Scene for thirty five years or more. I had a ball picking through the opera holdings, which are rarely played intact anymore. I opened up a fabulous Aidia with Leontyne Price and found an odd sort of crumble of foam — it was one of those liners record companies used to insert in multiple disc recordings when they first brought them out. The foam crumbles with time but not the recording. I brushed it off carefully and sat back to listen to Ms. Price in her splendor. I doubt anyone had opened that cd case in ten years.
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