Psst... Got a Minute for Revolution?
If not, too bad! It's what you're getting here tonight, philistines! Sorry... I just got a little, you know... I'm shivering all over! What I'm saying is that Verdi's thing was that thing, revolution. His music was like a flag in Napoleon's hand, waved over all the world's terrain and followed by the noise of fifty thousand horse hooves. The prudish critics, audiences, and censors of the 1800s, otherwise known as the people who made Little Dorrit's, Jude Fawley's, and Hugh Jackman's lives miserable, found themselves floored time and again by his dramatic ideas, which shoved opera further away from the Classical Era's rules than ever before. He used stories, used life to color every note he wrote, becoming one of the Victorians' great musical villains. That, naturally, made him a hero of freedom-seeking music makers everywhere, which makes him our hero, the hero of opera crazies in the world's every corner, all of whom have a not so secret love of things dark, tear-jerking, and in all other ways King-of-Malevolence powerful. He pushed every bound he could find and swept the planet with a shadow of political and social revelation, brooding constantly over the state of things. "Aida," an opera about the influence of the Church that wears the mask of a love story set in ancient Egypt, is one of his bestest government thug busters, especially because it's so wowedly catchy! Yes, I say, "wowedly," just because Verdi deserves all the awe-imbued 'wows' I can give him!
Pro Screamers, Ye Be Called!
Verdi really made singers start working harder for a living. Until the 1950s, most of the other composers of Verdi's time weren't taken very seriously after their deaths, and the big reason was that their style was an apple that had fallen from Mozart's tree. So, the performers who put on their shows tended to treat the music of Rossini, Bellini, and Donizetti like said master's, which might have been great if that were what the great Bel Canto trio wanted. The pro screamers, Maria Callas, Montserrat Caballe, Joan Sutherland, Joyce DiDonato, and Cecilia Bartoli all have done a great job at bringing back some of their old goods and really showing what they're worth, adding expression and, in Maria's case, a unique kind of genius, that makes them pop. Verdi created his advocates. He tweaked the vocal styles he knew and wrote music that professional singers had to train for, and they wanted to because it was written for the beings that tradition has never favored: people. Eventually, the style that he developed became his own brand, and even now everyone still calls the singers who are able to pull off his stuff "Verdians." A Verdian's voice is trained to be Mariah Carey flexible, to hit even the highest notes with the power of a fist in the gut, and to move from note to note smoothly. Maybe you're thinking we opera fans make too many demands. I say, my dear opera newbie, that after you've heard Maria Callas and Fedora Barbieri in "Il Trovatore," Shirley Verrett in "Macbeth," Piero Cappuccilli in "Simon Boccanegra," and Renata Tebaldi in "Aida," I'd love to know if you don't like your Verdians just the way we crazies like them.
The Hot Ten
To this day, Giuseppe Verdi is one of the top composers on the "Most Popular" list in the opera world, and no less than ten of his operas are considered true masterpieces. His first legendary works, "Macbeth," "Rigoletto," "Il Trovatore," and "La Traviata" (the most-performed opera on the planet) were written in a twisted up Bel Canto style. "Macbeth" is, yes, based on the Shakespeare play, which only shows how dedicated Verdi was to drama, and that dedication is what led to his other most celebrated, and his most revolutionary, works, which included "La Forza del Destino," "Don Carlos," "Aida," and "Simon Boccanegra." These are some of the ultimate dramatic fun fests in classical music, all the necessary suicides, lung disease, murders, and plots for revenge included. Each of his last operas came after he had "decided" to retire from composition and been lured out of his cave by friends. Both of them are based on Shakespeare (That's right!). "Otello" is the first of these two, considered by millions of opera freaks to be his greatest work, and not only because almost every word of Shakespeare's play (in Italian, of course) is included in its libretto. There is no Verdi opera that is darker, none that are better tailored to a story (which is saying something), none that demonstrate how great he could be at blending a voice with an orchestra. Then (Total twist!) there is "Falstaff," a comedy. Yes, a comedy, which is known for its stack-of-melodies effect, one short tune playing on top of another throughout the work. Even at the age of 80, Verdi couldn't help being inventive.
In short, if you're looking for music that can crack the earth's crust, you should really give Verdi's "Requiem" a try. Oh... well... I forgot to mention it and thought you should know it's kinda supercool. It's very operatic for a Requiem and very little like Mozart's (obviously), but if there's a composition that can blow a hundred minds to bits, it's the work's "Dies Irae." On Everyone's Opera's Facebook and Google+ (Brand new!) pages, I'll be publishing all of my main opera music man's best-known arias, duets, and ensembles, as well as all my personal favorites of his works. I hope you've enjoyed this feature, my friends! Until next time, happy opera loving!