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Verdi Part ii: Bill’s Bibliography

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

verdi'sshakespeareI'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.

verdiwithavengenceIn 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 operalovermusic 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.

-Bill McGlaughlin



8 Responses to Verdi Part ii: Bill’s Bibliography

  1. Pingback: Verdi Part ii: Bill’s Bibliography | Exploring Music

  2. marilyn jones says:

    I have subscribed-at the $50 level-and I don’t know how to access the programs I wish to hear. Also, when will I begin receiving the weekly playlists? Thanks. Marilyn jones

  3. Paula Satinoff says:

    This delightful post was almost like getting to hear an additional edition of Exploring Music! – and what a lovely mini-trip back in memory to have you mention Mr. Jellinek’s The Vocal Scene…my very earliest “sound memories” are of WQXR and until I moved up to NH in the mid-1980’s that’s what was always on, in my mother’s and later my own home.

    In any event, I decided to share (inflict?) a poem that this week’s Verdi theme inspired me to write and send to the great Mr. M. Enjoy – or brace yourselves, as the case may be…Caveat lector!

    _An Indomitable ‘Will’_
    Musician, Orator, brilliant Musicologist
    Story-teller, Historian and virtual Psychologist…
    His words have the cogent allure of a poet
    (But he is ever so humble & I bet he don’t know it).
    His fingers astutely elicit from ivory keys
    the notes with which his enthralling story agrees.

    This evening’s unwitting “hero” – one chap name of Otello,
    a most unfortunate, discontented, insecure Moorish fellow
    whose wit, alas, is far outdone by his macho!
    At the end all he’s left with is “Un bacio, un bacio…”
    If only his counselor had been – instead of scheming Iago,
    dear Maestro McGlaughlin – might Otello’ve been spared so much rago*?
    ©2013 P. Satinoff

    * generally reckless, insouciant behaviour, e.g., someone who does something bad/anti-social in public without concern for police, disapproving bystanders, etc.

  4. Mark Fitzgerald says:

    I loved getting to hear so much of Verdi’s Otello. I read the play a few years ago, and love Shakespeare. I was wowed by Verdi’s music here; it really matched up to the playwright’s brilliance. This was my highlight of the two weeks, but I also like Falstaff, an opera I saw, and recalled during the broadcast. La Travailata and Rigoletto are also tremendous operas that many should see. For music the former is so strong, and for poignancy (certainly when I saw it in 2005 at Pittsburgh Opera) the latter is great. Verdi’s music has an edge to it, but gives that up in the delicate soft passages. It seems to me almost a bit “lusty” – I thoroughly enjoyed what I heard in this double program, after some initial uncertainty as to my personal excitement level. Thanks Bill et all.

  5. Mark Fitzgerald says:

    Just to make one other comment: I appreciate that Bill mentioned the similarity of several Mozart operas to Verdi’s Falstaff. I notice some real commonality between the opera composition of these two composers. One gets a feeling of fullness from the music and tone that seems unparalleled elsewhere (from these two composers). I am not a great opera buff, but I would place a lot of weight on seeing these operas live – it really is a tremendous experience in my view. Thanks again.

  6. Martha Williams says:

    While I love nearly all of your programs (despite the late hour on QXR), the one for October 21 really got to me when it featured the Phila Woodwind Quintet. I grew up in Philly, went frequently to the original Academy of Music, and remember watching the whole bunch (Kincaid [with the reportedly platinum flute!], Gigliotti, deLancie, Mason Jones). Jones’ successor as first chair, Nolan Miller, went to the college I attended. I recently read of his passing in our alumni newsletter.
    Keep up the great programming! Martha Williams

  7. Lois Rodgers says:

    Hello to Bill. Just a comment that I greatly value your program. As a musician and vocalist I have learned a great deal from you and also appreciate the wide range of music you present. Thanks for all your music no-how. Lois

  8. Robert Hart says:

    Is this the only way to ask questions and or contact??

    the commentary is not for me, the music speaks for itself and would like to just listen to your selections instead of words.

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