Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Archive for Otello

Music History Monday: What to Do About Otello?

Before getting to the question that drives today’s post, we would recognize five date-worthy events: a tragedy; two notable cancellations, and two notable opera performances. First, the tragedy. On November 29, 2001 – 20 years ago today – George Harrison died in Los Angeles of lung cancer at the age of 58.  Born in Liverpool on February 25, 1943, Harrison was the youngest of the Beatles: just 16 years old when he joined up in 1959.  Though not known for his song writing early on, Harrison’s contributions to the band’s repertoire came to rival those of John Lennon and Paul McCartney.  Harrison contributed four songs to the Beatles second to last album, released in November of 1968 and nicknamed “The White Album” for its plain white cover.  Among those four songs is the exquisite While My Guitar Gently Weeps (the recording of which features Eric Clapton on lead guitar).  Harrison’s two contributions to the Beatles’ final album – Abby Road, released in 1969 – are both rock classics: Here Comes the Sun and Something. (John Lennon declared that Something was the best song on the album, and it is the second most covered Beatles song, after Paul McCartney’s Yesterday.  The […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes: Otello

We begin by picking up where we left off last week, with the triumphant premiere of Verdi’s Requiem for Manzoni in 1874. Verdi proceeded to tour Europe conducting the Requiem to ecstatic audience responses everywhere. He was truly at the very top of his game, in his absolute prime. Consequently, it came as a thunderbolt when, in late 1875 (or so), the 62-year-old Verdi did the unthinkable: he informed his nearest and dearest – his wife, his friends, and his publisher – that as a composer he was through, finito. After 24 operas and one Requiem, after a lifetime of 16 to 18-hour days, impossible deadlines, harried constantly by librettists, producers, singers, critics and conductors, Giuseppe Fortunino Francesco Verdi was done. When his great friend Clarina Maffei told him that he had a moral obligation to compose, Verdi wrote: “Are you serious about my moral obligation to compose? No, you’re joking, since you know as well as I that the account is settled.” He had been thinking about retiring for decades. In 1845 – at the age of just 32 – he was retirement was already on his mind. He wrote to a friend: “Thanks for remembering poor me, condemned […]

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Music History Monday: The Opera that Almost Wasn’t

On this day 131 years ago – February 5, 1887 – Giuseppe Verdi’s 25th and penultimate opera, Otello, received its premiere at the Teatro alla Scala (“La Scala”) in Milan. The premiere was the single greatest triumph in Verdi’s sensational career. But it was a premiere – and an opera – that almost didn’t happen. Verdi was born in 1813. He was a tough, no-nonsense man who had a tough life: he lost his wife and two young children to disease during a terrible 20-month span in 1839 and 1840. He battled through his grief to compose an opera called A King for a Day that was booed of the stage. He battled through his rage over that fiasco to compose his third opera, entitled Nabucco, which was a smash hit. He never looked back. No one ever worked harder than Giuseppe Verdi. In the 14 years between 1839 and 1853, he composed nineteen operas. Verdi called these his “galley slave years” because he worked like one: 16 to 18 hours a day, always under deadline, endlessly harried by librettists, producers, singers, critics and conductors. According to Verdi, he hated the whole stinkin’ trip, and as early as 1845 – […]

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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 […]

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