Verdi: master tunesmith

If you’ve still to go to your firstopera, here’s a plea: don’t decide “it’s not my thing” until you’ve tried. The reputation that this art form has for some asbeing the preserve of the privileged and the rich is nonsense, old hat, frankly A big yawn – as well as no longer being supported by the facts.

Huge strides have been made by all the leading opera houses, and more recently formed festivals up and down the country, to make it accessible to everyone. Language is no longer a barrier, either, thanks to almost universal use of surtitles. And cost? Yes, you could spend a small fortune if you wanted to, but you could also attend one for considerably less than the average price of a Premier League football match or a west end musical. 

In other words, it just comes down to perception and pre-conceived, baseless opinion. The trick, as a first-timer, is to find the right one. Then acknowledge that you are unlikely to love it all; but like your experience on a golf course, or any other sporting endeavour, you will be teased just enough by a moment of such utter perfection and beauty, that you are left with no choice but to return.

Opera combines theatre, design, orchestra, singing – most of themajor art forms rolled into one. It might seem strange to sing stories, but to burst into song is something we’ve all done at some time; so it is, in fact, not quite as crazy as it seems.To assert that you won’t like opera before going, is to say you enjoy reading and refuse to go to a Shakespeare play: you are depriving yourself of an emotional response which you cannot imagine.

Obvious candidates for a first try are most of the Mozart operas (Don Giovanni, The Magic Flute, The Marriage of Figaro) and Puccini‘s La Boheme. Bizet’s Carmen another, and La Traviata which we have already heard the prelude another. But perhaps a less obvious contender by Traviata’s composer, Verdi, is Rigoletto. Verdi wrote 29 operas, and can reasonably be heralded as one of the most successful opera composers ever. Rigoletto has a lot going for it: the moving story of a father’s love for his daughter, Gilda, who is raped by his much-reviled employer, the Duke of Mantua, and with whom she then falls in love. Rigoletto seeks his revenge with disastrous consequences. First performed in 1851, it was an enormous success.

Above all, though, this is an opera where the tunes just keep coming at you from beginning to end. It is almost impossible to single out one passage, so I’m going to give you two, the second of which you will know, even if you never listen to a piece of classical music in your life.

But we’ll start with the quartet in the final act, which is a glorious melody with beautiful intermingling of voices. The hunchback Rigoletto is showing his daughter, here sung by the great Joan Sutherland (nicknamed La Stupenda) what a bounder the Duke is. He is seducing Maddalena, the sister of Sparafucile, the assassin whom Rigoletto has hired to bump off his employer, the duke. Pavarotti, who described Sutherland as having the voice of the century, made this part of the Duke his own.

Four voices. Duke proclaiming ‘love’ for Maddalena; Maddalena replying along the lines of “I bet you say that to all the girls”; Gilda observing “that’s what he said to me” (so Maddalena had a point); and Rigoletto doing his best to convince Gilda that the Duke is a wrongun.

What a mingling of voices this is. Joining Pavarotti and Sutherland are Leo Nucci in The part of Rigoletto, and Isola Jones as Maddalena. This is a live performance and it’s utter perfection, no wonder the crowd went mad. And that last note from Sutherland – I don’t know if it’s in the school, but if you know you can do it like this, why wouldn’t you?

Leo Nucci, Isola Jones.




4 thoughts on “Verdi: master tunesmith”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: