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Monday, November 28, 2011

The Verdi List

The man known to some as "Joe Green" celebrates his 200th birthday in 2013. 
This post came about from a Twitter conversation with someone going under the name "Giuseppe Verdi." Here's my list of Verdi opera, first-to-worst. Since there are actually four operas out of the composer's catalogue that I still haven't seen or heard, it's not quite complete. OK. Here we go.
  1. Rigoletto: You can see the tale of the hunchbacked jester with a lecherous boss a dozen times and it still plays, and still breaks the heart. The opera that got Verdi out of the "galley" and onto the international stage.

  2. Don Carlos/Don Carlo: Verdi's darkest, longest and most symphonic opera: a heartbroken young man stares down the Spanish Inquisition--and blinks.
  3. Simon Boccanegra (1883 revision): A bomb in its original version, Verdi's revision of Boccanegra was a work of theatrical genius, and the gateway to the brilliant work of his final years.
  4. La Forza del Destino: The story is (literally) all over the place, but this experiment in destroying Aristotelian unities has some of the best music.
  5. Otello: This might be the only Shakespeare opera that is better than the play it is based on. 
  6. Il trovatore: The opera "with everything" is demanding for the singers. Although the plot is a bit old-fashioned, it works if you have the four best singers in the world, or at least the four best available.
  7. Falstaff: With his last opera, the composer has the last laugh.
  8. La traviataThe tragic end of Violetta never fails to pull the heartstrings. A family drama with great music and a challenging leading role.
  9. MacbethThis would be the best Shakespeare opera ever written if Verdi hadn't come out of retirement. Very underrated
  10. AidaThe sellout after the experimentation of Forza and Don Carlo. And it continues to sell packed houses.
  11. Nabucco: Verdi's first grand opera and first hit. This goes high just for "Va, pensiero." 
  12. Attila: The best bass role in Italian opera. 
  13. Stiffelio: Banned by censors (and later revised and re-titled), Stiffelio found its audience--in the 20th century.
  14. Un Ballo en Maschera: Another opera that struggled with censorship. Verdi contrasts light  court comedy with jealousy, personal tragedy and political assassination.
  15. Ernani: The libretto (based on Victor Hugo) is hokey but the opera can send chills dow your spine.
  16. La Battaglia del Legnano: An exercise in Italian patriotism. You never get to see it, but it's pretty good!
  17. I due Foscari: Dark and experimental, this is kind of a fore-runner of Don Carlos.
  18. I Lombardi alla prima crociata: The ambitious follow-up to Nabucco is too ambitious for its own good.
  19. Les vêpres Siciliennes/I Vespri Siciliani: A five-act grand opera for Paris that ended with the Italians massacring the French. Slow, depressing, and all over the place.
Operas I've heard but never seen live or on video:
Luisa Miller: A pastoral tragedy that comes right before Rigoletto.
I Masnadieri: Kind of a follow-up to Ernani with a demanding soprano part written for Jenny Lind.
Il corsaro: One of Verdi's shortest operas. Not to be confused with Simon Boccanegra.
Alzira: Set in South America, this dashed-off rewrite of Voltaire is noisy and trite.

I did not include Oberto, Un Giorno di Regno, Giovanna d'Arco, JérusalemAroldo, or the orignal version of Simon Boccanegra, as I've never listened to them. The last two are revisions of earlier operas--Jérusalem is a French reworking of I Lombardi. Aroldo was an attempt to rehabilitate Stiffelio by moving the story to the time of the Crusades in medieval Scotland.

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