Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Archive for Verdi

Music History Monday: Getting Back to Work!

On February 5, 1887 – 137 years ago today – Giuseppe Verdi’s 25th and second-to-last opera, Otello, received its premiere at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan.  The premiere was the single greatest triumph in Verdi’s sensational career.  But it was a premiere – and an opera – that was a long time coming. Background He was born on October 10, 1813, in the sticks: in the tiny village of Le Roncole, in the northern Italian province of Parma.   Verdi’s first opera, Oberto, received its premiere at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan in November 1839, when Verdi was 26 years old.  Oberto was a modest success – it received 13 performances – and based on its success, the management at La Scala offered Verdi a contract to compose three more operas.  Verdi had begun his second opera – a comedy called A King for a Day – when catastrophe struck: he lost his wife and two young children to disease during a horrific, 20-month span between 1839 and 1840.  Rendered nearly insane by the deaths, Verdi nevertheless battled through his grief and managed to complete A King for a Day.  The opera received its premiere on September 5, […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes Giuseppe Verdi: String Quartet in E minor (1873)

I am doing something here in this post today that I have only done twice before in the storied history of Dr. Bob Prescribes: I am recommending a recording for the second time. The other two times I did so were a matter of expedience, as I reran two posts back in early March immediately after my heart bypass surgery. The issue today is not one of expedience but rather, of necessity. You see, Giuseppe Verdi’s String Quartet in E minor remains his least-known masterwork, and it deserves a much harder sell than it was given in what was a brief post back on March 10, 2020. Yesterday’s Music History Mondayfocused on Verdi’s Requiem and its premiere on May 22, 1874, 149 years ago yesterday. What went unmentioned in yesterday’s post is that following the premiere of his Requiem, Verdi shocked the operatic world by announcing his retirement. It was an announcement that appeared to have aggrieved pretty much everyone on the planet with the notable exception of Giuseppe Verdi himself, who believed that with the composition of Aida (1871) and his Requiem (1874) he had freaking written enough. Verdi and Retirement In 1875 Giuseppe was truly at the very […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes Giuseppe Verdi – Rigoletto

Giuseppe Verdi and Teatro la Fenice Yesterday’s Music History Monday post – entitled “The Phoenix Rises” was about Venice’s fabled opera house, the Teatro la Fenice, “The Phoenix Theater.” Among the many operatic premieres that the Fenice has seen on its boards are five – count ‘em, five – by Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901): Ernani (1844); Attila (1846); Rigoletto (1851); La Traviata (1853); and Simon Boccanegra (1857).   These operas are no strangers to this Patreon page. My Music History Monday post for March 6, 2017, focused on the 164th anniversary of the (disastrous) premiere of La Traviata, which took place at the Fenice on March 6, 1853.  My Dr. Bob Prescribes post for May 11, 2021, focused on Verdi’s fifth opera, Ernani, which received its premiere at the Fenice on March 9, 1844.  Today’s post will focus on yet another of Verdi’s Teatro la Fenice premieres, that of Rigoletto, which took place on March 11, 1851.  Specifically, this post will focus on how Verdi managed to get a highly charged political story past the Venetian/Austrian censors and into production.  (For our information: Austria ruled Venice and its home province of Veneto until 1866 when, after the Third Italian War of […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes Giuseppe Verdi: Ernani

Yesterday’s Music History Monday post about the riot at the Astor Place Opera House noted that the house opened on November 22, 1847 with a performance of Giuseppe Verdi’s Ernani. In fact, it was the first American performance of Ernani, which had received its premiere in Venice on March 9, 1844. Ernani was Verdi’s fifth opera, and it followed on the heels of two great successes: Nabucco (or “Nebuchadnezzar” of 1842)and I Lombardi alla prima crociata (“The Lombards on the First Crusade” of 1843). Nabucco and I Lombardi made Verdi’s reputation. But even more than Nabucco and I Lombardi, Ernani made Verdi’s fame, and remained the most popular of his operas until the premiere of Il Trovatore in 1853. (Factoid: Ernani was also the first opera to be recorded in its entirety, in 1904.) We’ll get to Ernani in a bit. But first, I’d like to use the occasion of its American premiere at the Astor Place Opera House to explore what was Verdi’s formative decade, what he called his “years of the galley slave.” The Years of the Galley Slave On March 20, 1843, Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901) – seven months shy of his 30th birthday – left his apartment […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes: Verdi String Quartets

Yesterday’s Music History Monday post observed the premiere of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Nabucco on March 9, 1842. Staying with Verdi, today’s Dr. Bob Prescribes post deals with Verdi’s least-known masterwork: his String Quartet in E minor of 1873. The winter and spring of 1861 saw the not quite 48-year-old Giuseppe Verdi composing the operatic potboiler La Forza del Destino, “The Force of Destiny.” The majority of this four-act gore-fest takes place in Spain, and its characters and story line are Spanish. Given its Spanish locale, characters, and story, Verdi’s librettist on the gig – Francesco Maria Piave (1810-1876; Piave also write the libretti for Verdi’s Ernani, I due Foscari, Attila, MacBeth, Il corsaro, Stiffelio, Rigoletto, La Traviata, and Simon Boccanegra) – asked Verdi if he wanted to take a look at a collection of Spanish folksongs he had borrowed from a friend. We can well imagine Piave’s offer: “You know, Giuseppe, the opera’s got a Spanish locale, characters, and storyline, and since it’s been four years since you wrote any music I’m thinking that some Spanish folksongs might give you a little inspiration, maybe help you to add a little local color, whatever. I’d like to bring them over so […]

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Music History Monday: Unspeakable Catastrophe and Unqualified Triumph!

We mark the first performance on March 9, 1842 – 178 years ago today – of Giuseppe Verdi’s third opera and first operatic masterwork, Nabucco, at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan. Giuseppe Fortunino Francesco Verdi (1813-1901) was born on either the ninth or tenth of October 1813, in the north-central Italian village of Le Roncole in the Duchy of Parma.  At the time, the Duchy of Parma was part of Napoleon’s “First French Empire” and as such Verdi’s birth name was recorded in French as “Joseph Fortunin François”. Thus, this great Italian patriot was born– much to his later annoyance – as a citizen of France. Verdi’s family moved to nearby Busseto when he was still a child, and it was there that Verdi acquired the padrone – the patron – who would shape his life: a wealthy merchant named Antonio Barezzi. Barezzi paid for Verdi’s musical education, arranged for Verdi’s first full-time music position (as Busetto’s “town music master”), and sponsored Verdi’s first public performance. But even more, Antonio Barezzi “gave” Verdi the greatest gift any father can give, and that was the hand of his daughter Margherita; the two were married on May 4, 1836. Margherita in turn […]

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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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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” […]

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Music History Monday: The Right Composer at the Right Time and the Right Place

On February 11, 1843 – 176 years ago today – Giuseppe Verdi’s opera I Lombardi alla Prima Crociata (The Lombards of the First Crusade) received its first performance at the Teatro La Scala in Milan. It was the 29-year-old Verdi’s fourth opera. His third opera, the monumentally successful Nabucco (as in Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon) – which had premiered just 11 months before – in March 1842, had put Verdi on the Italian opera map. I Lombardi secured his position on that map; as an unnamed critic wrote in his review of I Lombardi in the Gazzetta di Milano: “We would just say that if Nabucco created this young man’s reputation, I Lombardi has served to confirm it.” The “reputation” to which the critic refers was not just Verdi’s standing as a composer, but his growing status as a hero of the Risorgimento, the movement that would eventually see Italy achieve nationhood. Verdi was indeed “the right composer at the right time and the right place” and therein lies a remarkable story. Risorgimento Risorgimento means, “rising up again”. Verdi lived the bulk of his life during the so-called “Italian Risorgimento”, a period that saw the Italian people “rise up again” to […]

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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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