Friday, September 23, 2011

Viva VEneRDI!

Happy Friday!

I must credit my officemate with the brilliant title of my newest blog feature: "Viva VEneRDI!" From today on, every* Friday, I will post about one of my favorite works by Verdi.... or Puccini, or Bellini, or Leoncavallo, or ANY Italian opera composer, actually. For the sake of those who aren't opera/Italian history/Risorgimento freaks (unlike myself), I will explain the connection.

Portrait by Giovanni Boldini

During the Risorgimento (the 50 year-long struggle for the unification of Italy) (more on the Risorgimento in a later post, but as I am still in the 8th century BC on my historic timeline, it might take me a while to get the the 1800s, so don't hold your breath), opera composer Giuseppe Verdi was one of the champions of Italian independence. Not only that, but many of his successes corresponded with victories of the soon to be united country of Italy while the north (where Verdi is from) was under Austrian occupation. In fact, when the haunting slave chorus from Nabucco, "Va, pensiero", was first heard, it resonated with Italians who could identify with the Jews who lacked a homeland, as they themselves lacked a national identity. It is now the unofficial Italian national anthem and I would challenge you to find an Italian alive who couldn't sing it.

Verdi's name happens to be an acronym for Vittorio Emanuele Re D'Italia (Victor Emanuel King of Italy) the then-king of Piemonte and Sardegna, who was the chosen leader for this soon-to-be independent country. Partisans shouted "Viva VERDI!" or scrawled it on walls to secretly show their support of the movement. So, if you ever wondered why all* Italians prefer Verdi to Puccini, even though the latter's music is so much more captivating and beautiful (no, I did not just write that!), well, now you know.

So VEneRDI (Friday) will be Verdi's (and his fellow Italian opera composers') day on my blog. Such a clever name could only have come from the mind of an Oxford graduate.

Here is a lusty number that will start your weekend off on the right note: 'Libiam ne' lieti calici' from Verdi's La Traviata, conducted by Richard Bonynge with Luciano Pavarotti and Joan Sutherland in 1965: this is the recording I grew up listening to. I love how she tosses her head back at the end as if to say, "Yeah, I nailed it." Rest in peace, Dame Joan.

*not to be taken literally

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  1. Loved Pavarotti so much. It was a sad day when he passed away. Very interesting article. Perhaps you can go a bit further to explain it to me as I'm a little confused. PLM

  2. You know, when you talked about Va pensiero ("Nabucco", G. Verdi) I knew the piece in my head. I just LOVE it. I've always thought it sounded German in origin and now, I think I know why - Austria? PLM


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