Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Celebrating Verdi’s 200th — Falstaff

I trust we all raised a glass last Thursday on the 10th of October in honor of Giuseppe Verdi’s 200th birthday.

Now, I am aware that with the exception of “belated birthday cards” (“I really crapped up, I’m embarrassed to say; but I had better things to do than remember your day”), we generally do not continue to celebrate birthdays after the date has passed. But 200th birthdays should – rightly – be considered an exception, and thus October of this year has been unofficially designated as “Giuseppe Verdi Appreciation Month”. In Italy in particular, the celebration goes on, with Verdi festivals and opera performances up and down the peninsula.

With this in mind, I will be on my way to Italy in just a few hours where I will lead an opera tour organized by Arte & Travel in and around Verdi’s home province of Parma. Among other treats, we will attend performances of “Don Carlo” at La Scala (in Milan); “Nabucco” in Bologna, and “I Masnadieri” (“The Bandits”) at the Teatro Reggio in Parma. This, my friends, is pretty much as good as it gets, and I am most aware of how fabulously lucky I am to be able to hear these wonderful operas in what was Verdi’s own backyard.

I will then, over the next two weeks, be reporting from Parma. Please stay tuned (or, as the ersatz talk-show host Larry Sanders would say, “No clicking!”).

(Rest assured, you can share my good fortune, as a number of like trips are planned for 2014, including a wonderful opera/symphony tour of Vienna scheduled for late April/early May. I’ll write more about these upcoming jaunts when I return home.)

Depending upon how you count them, Verdi wrote 28 operas. Only two of them were comedies: his second opera, “Un giorno di regno” (“King for a Day”) of 1840 and his last opera, “Falstaff” (based on Shakespeare’s “The Merry Wives of Windsor”) of 1893. That’s 53 years between comedies, though given Verdi’s personal life experiences and his dramatic proclivity towards potboilers, it’s no surprise that comedies did not play much of a role in his professional life. But late in life, with his heart and soul at peace, he was drawn powerfully to the magnificently rotund figure of Sir John Falstaff. In creating “Falstaff” Verdi went out with an artistic bang: along with Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro” and “Cosi fan tutte”, and Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville”, Verdi’s “Falstaff” MUST be considered among the handful of greatest opera buffe ever composed.

For more information on this, Verdi’s final opera, I would offer up an excerpt from Lecture 26 of my Great Courses survey, “The Life and Operas of Verdi”.