Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Archive for Giuseppe Verdi

Dr. Bob Prescribes: Giuseppe Verdi, Requiem for Manzoni

In June of 1870, the 57-year-old Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901) agreed to compose an opera for the brand-new Cairo Opera Theater. The Khedive Ismail Pasha of Egypt handled the negotiations personally; the opera was to celebrate nothing less than the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869. No expense was spared, either on the opera or on Verdi, who received the unheard-of commissioning fee of 150,000 gold francs: roughly $1,935,000 today! Aida received its premiere in Cairo on December 24, 1871. The real premiere, as far as Verdi and the opera world were concerned, took place six weeks later, at La Scala in Milan on February 8, 1872. It was a triumph, the greatest of Verdi’s career to date; he received 32 curtain calls. The only artist in Italy as popular and beloved as Verdi at the time was the novelist and poet Alessandro Manzoni (1785-1883). Manzoni’s most famous work is a novel entitled I promessi sposi (“The Betrothed”), which was written initially between 1821 and 1827; Manzoni completed the final, “definitive” version in 1842. Manzoni wrote this final version in what was (and still is) considered the stylistically superior Italian dialect of Tuscany. This final, “Tuscan” version of “The Betrothed” […]

Continue Reading

Music History Monday: A Magnificent Fiasco!

On March 6, 1853 – 164 years ago today – Giuseppe Verdi’s opera La Traviata received its first performance at the Teatro La Fenice in Venice. The two years between March of 1851 and March of 1853 saw the premieres of three operas by Giuseppe Verdi that cemented, for all time, his reputation as the greatest Italian-born composer of operas since Claudio Monteverdi: Rigoletto, Il Trovatore, and La Traviata. To say that Giuseppe Verdi was the most famous and beloved living composer working in Italy at the time of the premiere of La Traviata is like saying that Babe Ruth was the most famous and beloved baseball player in 1930: a statement so obvious that it hardly bears mention. So it might come as something of a surprise that the premiere of La Traviata was one of the greatest disasters of Verdi’s long and storied career: a “fiasco” in contemporary parlance. Here’s what happened: New Webcourses Mozart In Vienna   Music of the Twentieth Century La Traviata Verdi’s opera Il Trovatore received its premiere on January 19, 1853 in Rome. While in Rome, Verdi had a piano installed in his rooms, so that he could get to work composing his […]

Continue Reading

Scandalous Overtures — Giuseppe Verdi: The Conspiracy to Get Him Back To Work

Early retirement; who doesn’t dream of it, or at least think about it now and then? But for the vast majority of us, early retirement is like winning the lottery: a fantasy never to be realized. Now, if you are one of the lucky few that genuinely like what you do for a living, retirement holds little attraction. I have a good friend, a fabulously successful investment manager in his mid-60’s, who could retire today. But, as he says, he would wake up tomorrow and simply start another business doing exactly the same thing he had been doing before he “retired.” For me, the issue isn’t so much retirement as having the liberty to do less: of not feeling constantly pressured to write and perform and worry, endlessly, about money. People who use their bodies for a living – professional athletes and dancers – do not have the option to do less. They know that time is not on their side and that only total physical commitment is possible. And woe to the athlete or dancer who goes on for too long: their bodies break down and their reputations are permanently sullied. On the flip-side of that coin are those […]

Continue Reading

Celebrating Verdi’s 200th — Life and Operas of Verdi: Otello

During the first half of his professional life, Giuseppe Verdi worked like a proverbial dog. (An odd idiom, “worked like a dog”. Yes, I suppose some dogs do work, but most of them spend the bulk of their time sleeping, eating, scratching themselves and licking their privates. If the latter is what is really meant by “working like a dog”, well then, the idiom takes on a whole new meaning, doesn’t it? With that possibility in mind, permit me to restart this post, sans the canine reference.) During the first half of his professional life, Giuseppe Verdi worked REALLY HARD. In the fourteen years between 1839 (when he completed his first opera, “Oberto”) and 1853 (when he completed “La Traviata”), Verdi composed and oversaw the casting, staging, and premieres of eighteen operas. (A nineteenth opera – Jérusalem, produced in 1847 – was in actuality an adaptation and translation into French of an earlier opera entitled “I Lombardi alla prima crociata”.) Verdi himself referred to the period between 1839 and 1853 as constituting his “galley slave years” because to his mind (and to ours), he worked like a slave: 18-20 hours a day, almost every day, always under deadline, harried endlessly […]

Continue Reading

Celebrating Verdi’s 200th — Life and Operas of Verdi: Rigoletto

Giuseppe Verdi’s first opera, “Oberto”, was produced at Milan’s famed Teatro alla Scala in 1839 when Verdi was 26 years old. Oberto’s modest success was completely obscured by the domestic disasters Verdi suffered between 1838 and 1840 when, in the span of 22 months, he lost both his small children and he beloved wife Margherita to disease. Paralyzed by grief, Verdi swore he’d never compose again. But compose he did: egged on, cajoled, wheedled and finally browbeaten by Bartolomeo Merelli – the director of La Scala – Verdi completed his second opera “Un giorno di regno” (“King for a Day”) and composed his third opera, “Nabucco”, about which I blogged on September 20. (Bartolomeo Merelli was an astute businessman, but in his actions towards Verdi, he was also a GREAT AND BRILLIANT man. Merelli’s love for and belief in Verdi very probably kept Verdi alive, and his intransigence towards Verdi the artist kept Verdi composing at a time when he would most likely have quit forever. That would have been a disaster of such magnitude that its mere contemplation loosens my bladder. So please, three cheers for Bartolomeo Merelli who was, in fact, one of music history’s indispensible men.) (While […]

Continue Reading

Celebrating Verdi’s 200th — Life and Operas of Verdi: Nabucco

We understand a “eureka moment” as being a revelatory, paradigm-shifting realization that has the power to change EVERYTHING. The word “eureka” comes from the ancient Greek word εὕρηκα, which means “I have found it!” The ancient Greco-dude credited with coining the exclamation “eureka!” was the mathematician, astronomer, physicist, engineer, inventor and Jeopardy!-freak Archimedes (circa 287 BCE – circa 212 BCE). Archimedes purportedly shrieked “EUREKA” when, having stepped into his bath and noticed that the water level rose, he realized that the volume of water he displaced was equal to the volume of his body that was submerged in the water. A nanosecond (or two) later, he then realized that he had solved what had long been considered an unsolvable problem: how to accurately measure the volume of an irregular object. According to legend, Archimedes was so excited by his “eureka moment” that he jumped out of the tub and ran naked through the streets of his native city of Syracuse, there on the southeastern coast of Sicily. We suspect he would have thought twice about doing so had he made his discovery during a winter’s evening in Medicine Hat, Alberta. I trust we’ve all had a “eureka moment”. Mine occurred […]

Continue Reading

Celebrating Verdi’s 200th — Life and Operas of Verdi: Macbeth

Speaking of facial hair (which I did in my previous post), I would issue a challenge to all the techies out there. I would dearly love to have an app that allowed me to actually “see” what someone looked like – clean shaven – beneath his beard. Now, I completely understand that a full beard is considered a sign of piety by some religious sects and as a symbol of male virility -“plumage” on full display – for various cultures. Nevertheless, as a card-carrying “face-man” (as opposed to a “breast-man” or a “leg-man”), I would assert that full beards cover up, and even disguise, that most special and revealing part of the human body: the face. Depending upon how they are counted, there are anywhere from 19 to 43 muscles in the human face, the subtle interplay of which collectively are capable of an almost infinite degree of expressive nuance. (Yes, there are exceptions to this. For example, given the range of emotional expression displayed by the actor Chuck Norris, we can correctly conclude that it is possible to have but a single facial muscle.) However many facial muscles one possesses, a full beard will mask much of the expression […]

Continue Reading

Celebrating Verdi’s 200th — Life and Operas of Verdi: La bell’Italia

We have a major composer birthday coming up: the great Italian opera composer Giuseppe Fortunino Francesco Verdi will be turning 200 years old on October 10, and he never sounded better. I am going to take a brief break from my jazz pianist postings in order to focus on my pal and yours, the esteemed Joe Green, the Italian opera machine. Rather than write long, potentially stultifying blogs about this fascinating man and brilliant composer, I am going to draw on a 32-lecture course I made for The Great Courses/The Teaching Company called (not unexpectedly) “The Life and Operas of Verdi.” (I am, of course, assuming that the selected video excerpts I will draw from this course are NOT stultifying.) The approximately nine-minute excerpts I will link to this page have the reinforcing advantages of providing much more info than I can possibly provide in a blog while, hopefully, making you hungry for even more information and therefore susceptible to actually purchasing the course. Follow the link below to the first excerpt, during which I discuss the prodigious gifts the Italians have lavished on humanity. Chief among those gifts is opera itself, and chief among the greatest composers of Italian […]

Continue Reading