You don’t need an excuse to have a party for Verdi. He is one of the most beloved composers of all time, and his work features in almost every season of every opera company in the world. But since 2013 marks the 200th Anniversary of his birth (October 10, 1813), we thought we’d pull out all the stops with a year-long festival of opera that features six of his very best presented by our very best.
Verdi was a straight-talker. He wrote beautiful, accessible music to explore the real-life foibles of men and women in and out of love with one another and the world. In his own words, “art without spontaneity, naturalness, and simplicity is not art,” and it is this raw approach to human emotion, which he had the genius to translate into extraordinary music, that makes his operas so immediately arresting.
Here are our top three reasons to see each of the operas that feature in our year-long festival of Verdi. Click on the links to see YouTube clips, interesting blog posts, biographies and artist's official websites.
1) The world première of a new production by Catalan theatre company La Fura Dels Baus, who have gained international fame for their cutting-edge and theatrically bold approach to performance.
3) 'Eri tu', the opera’s best-known aria traditionally performed by Ankarström in front of Gustav III's portrait. “It was you whom I trusted and who poisoned the universe for me…It is all over, only hatred and death remain in my heart.”
Did you know? Verdi was especially fond of the role of Oscar the page. “I would rather the opera not be given,” he said, “than that such a very important part be spoiled.” The part’s in safe hands with Taryn Fiebig in Sydney and Lorina Gore in Melbourne.
1) Manrico's show-stopping high C at the end of 'Di quella pira'. Opera Australia has recruited American tenor Arnold Rawls, whose high notes were the toast of the town in New York when he made his Metropolitan Opera debut as Manrico, stepping in at the last minute for an ailing Marcelo Álverez.
2) Caruso once remarked that Il Trovatore requires the four greatest singers in the world. Opera Australia has ensured Rawls will be in good company with Daria Masiero as Leonora and Michael Honeyman as Count di Luna. Milijana Nikolic completes this quadrumvirate as Azucena, perhaps the greatest mezzo-soprano role in Italian opera.
3) 'The Anvil Chorus', 'Coro di zingari', 'The Gypsy Chorus', 'Vedi! Le fosche notturne spoglie' - whatever it's known by, this is one of the most recognised themes to have come out of opera. Its proverbial anvil clanks made it a popular reference for the anvil obsessed Tiny Toon Adventures, and Gonzo the Great gave it a 'smashing' performance on The Muppet Show.
Did you know? Verdi did not actually write that now-famous high C in Manrico's aria. The celebrated Italian tenor Enrico Tamberlik - with Verdi's permission - stuck it onto the end, throwing down a gauntlet that no respective singer could dare ignore.
1) "I do begin to perceive that I am made an ass." Falstaff is one of the most popular comic characters of all time. He appears in three of Shakespeare's plays, Henry IV parts 1 and 2, and The Merry Wives of Windsor; the latter of which forms the basis of Verdi's opera. The famously pudgy, boastful and cowardly knight will be brought to life by Australian baritone, Warwick Fyfe.
2) Falstaff is a crowning achievement of utter genius. It's extraordinary that at the end of his life, with his 26th opera, Verdi changed his style and wrote this delicate masterpiece, his first comedy in 50 years.
3) Director Simon Phillips has been at the helm of many of the greatest hits of Australian theatre in recent years, including his production of Shakespeare's Richard III for the Melbourne Theatre Company, which earned him both a Green Room and Helpmann Award for Best Direction.
Did you know? Verdi had previously taken on two of Shakespeare's plays - Macbeth (1847) and Othello (1887), and in a letter to A Masked Ball librettist Antonio Somma he wrote "I prefer Shakespeare to all dramatists, not excepting the Greeks." Verdi frequently returned to his passion project of an opera based on another of Shakespeare's plays, King Lear, but never completed the work.
1) Director Graeme Murphy eschews elephants for a strikingly choreographed production that uses gestural set pieces and vivid projected images to conjure up ancient Egypt.
2) Aida is opera at its grandest, epitomised by the famous triumphal march, 'Gloria all'Egitto'.
3) Alongside its pomp and circumstance, Aida is full of beautiful and heartbreakingly human moments. The closing scene stands out as one of the most poignant; the beleaguered lovers calmly accept their fate, secure in the knowledge they'll be reunited in death. A repeated even-metered phrase sounds their gentle death knell.
Did you know? Much to Verdi's chagrin, his publisher, Giovanni Ricordi, circulated copies of Aida before its opening night. "I absolutely do not want publicity," he wrote to Ricordi, "let the public judge on the first night, for better or for worse...either Aida will succeed, then we will not need publicity, or it will go badly, and these premature views will just add to the fiasco." Suffice to say, the extra publicity was not needed; the opera has been a hit ever since its Cairo première.
1) For lovers of big singing, this is a powerful melodrama of love and vengeance.
2) An outstanding international cast of singers who regularly perform at all the big opera houses, from Milan to New York. Svetla Vassileva portrays Leonora in her Opera Australia debut, tenor Riccardo Massi plays Don Alvaro and exemplary bass Giacomo Prestia is Padre Guardiano.
Did you know? When the initial librettist, Francesco Maria Piave, suffered a stroke, a multi-talented poet named Antonio Ghislanzoni was brought on to finish the job. Ghislanzoni also numbered doctor, singer and journalist among his professions.
1) The heart of La Traviata is its central three roles, most famously performed by the trifecta of Maria Callas, Giuseppe di Stefano and Tito Gobbi. Opera Australia has rallied together the incomparable Emma Matthews as Violetta, rising tenor Martin Buckingham as Alfredo and outstanding baritone José Carbó as Giorgio Germont.
2) Verdi broke all the rules with his heroine Violetta, 'the fallen woman' of the opera's title. Her transformation from a hardened woman of the world to devoted - then spurned - lover, is portrayed with the greatest sympathy.
3) Director Elijah Moshinsky’s classic production, set in nineteenth-century Paris, gets to the heart of the opera’s themes of love and death with pathos and power.
Did you know? When asked which of his operas he like best, Verdi replied, "speaking as a professional, Rigoletto; as an amateur, La Traviata."