Weekly Guide: August 24–30
Unquestionably one of the giants of opera, Giuseppe Verdi contributed more masterpieces to the standard repertory of the world’s opera houses than any other composer. At the Met alone, his works have graced the stage some 5,700 times, the most in company history. Primarily, of course, his pride of place in the operatic pantheon stems from the brilliance and beauty of his music. His scores overflow with unforgettable arias that both elicit a powerful emotional response and provide a perfect showcase for virtuosic voices, and blend seamlessly together with soaring duets, masterfully intricate ensemble numbers, and pulse-quickening orchestral and choral writing.
But the dramatic effectiveness of Verdi’s operas also sets him apart. A true man of the theater, intensely intellectual, and prodigiously well-read, he based a number of his operas on works by literary legends: Shakespeare, Hugo, Byron, Schiller, Voltaire. And even when he wasn’t working with such lofty source material, he brought the dramatic lessons he learned from those unimpeachable tutors—as well as his own unique ability to translate drama into music—to bear on the story at hand. (It didn’t hurt that he also had impeccable taste in librettists.) As a result, his operas crackle with theatrical energy and tension, and achieve a level of musico-dramatic synthesis that only a few other composers have ever matched.
This week of free Nightly Opera Streams celebrates Verdi with performances of seven of his most beloved works, from Luisa Miller, one of his earlier masterpieces, to Falstaff, his final operatic testament. Each one showcases his inimitable gifts and demonstrates why our very understanding of what opera can be would be greatly diminished without him.
Monday, August 24
A Victor Hugo play, haunting and scandalous, provided the inspiration for Verdi’s mid-career masterpiece about a vengeful but misguided court jester, out to rescue his deflowered daughter from a duke’s licentious clutches. None of it ends well, but along the way, the composer introduces several of his most iconic arias and duets—as well as an 11th-hour quartet that counts among the finest moments in opera.
Tuesday, August 25
This turbulent tragedy of four characters caught in a web of family ties, politics, and love features a score as melodic as it is energetic, with infectious tunes that are not easily forgotten. The story of the troubadour of the title, his vengeance-obsessed Gypsy mother, his devoted lover, and her evil aristocratic pursuer, the opera lives in a borderland between madness and reality, not perfectly at home in either realm. For anyone who truly immerses himself in its shadowy world, Il Trovatore provides an experience that is uniquely thrilling, even within the world of Romantic Italian opera.
Wednesday, August 26
This gripping opera came near the close of Verdi’s early period and gave the world an early glimpse of the composer’s burgeoning genius. The tale of a pious and naive Tyrolean maiden in love with the wrong villager, the opera includes several trademark Verdi features: a soaring aria for the lead tenor, a nuanced and poignant father-daughter relationship for baritone and soprano, and a sublime third act that ends in tragedy.
Thursday, August 27
Un Ballo in Maschera
Verdi can always be counted on for passion, intrigue, and betrayal—and to make glorious music of it all. Un Ballo in Maschera, concerning a plot to murder King Gustavo III of Sweden, who also happens to be in love with his best friend and counselor’s wife, is no exception. With a principal cast featuring a powerful and dignified leading lady, a character role for soprano as young man, an otherworldly mezzo-soprano fortune-teller, a heroic tenor, and a suave and conflicted baritone, it’s Italian opera at its finest.
Friday, August 28
Few operatic figures are as beloved as Violetta, the dignified, selfless, and sickly heroine of Verdi’s classic tragedy. An elegant courtesan with a heart of gold, she chooses true love over the amusements and riches of her glamorous Parisian life, then sacrifices everything for the sake of a young woman she’s never even met. All of this—the glitter of her earlier wealth, the heat of her passion with the ardent young Alfredo, the pain of their separation, and her tragic end—lands with devastating weight thanks to Verdi, whose score stands as one of music’s greatest depictions of love and loss.
Saturday, August 29
With its inexhaustible bounty of arias, duets, quartets, and even a prison riot, this historical masterwork about the heir-apparent of King Philip II of Spain shows the composer at his thrilling, imaginative best. The six singers at the helm must be steely and intrepid, capable of delivering high notes, steroidal emotions, and the narrative twists and turns of this titanic score.
Sunday, August 30
Verdi finished his sublime final opera when he was almost 80 years old, capping a fruitful career with a bawdy adaptation of scenes from Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor and Henry IV. His classic operatic farce charts a knight’s gold-digging efforts to seduce two married women, leading to belly-flopping failure on both counts. The score, meanwhile, is a complete tour de force, demonstrating the old master’s still-youthful panache, as well as his profound insight into human nature.