Verdi And Originality Of Rigoletto English Literature Essay

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Picture Verdi's early life and the greater part of his operatic career fall into the time of Italian history known as Risorgimento. The years following the Restoration of 1815 were as momentous in the history of Italy's artistic life as in its politics. During this period was formulated that distinctive Italian brand of Romanticism, by which the young Verdi's artistic tastes were formed and on which his imagination was nourished.

The Italian society that Verdi lived in - its values, its pleasures and the place music held in it - seems imperative. The survival of local tradition, the distinctiveness of local atmosphere, the contrast in the way of live between certain regions or even cities, are notable features of life even in the today's Italy. In the Risorgimento period the Italians shared very little history, and when every region lived under a different form of government, these contrast were even stronger. The nobility of Piedmont was seen as active and energetic whereas Rome was "an aristocracy of non far niente" [2] and Florence was a "land of exile" [3] . The love of music was very universal in Italy. Music. Especially opera, was the favorite pastime for the greater part of the population. Milan had a lot of theatres where opera was regularly performed and this was pretty much same in the other greater cities of Italy.

Looking from the political side, opera and drama didn't have such a jolly life. All Italian dramatists of the period had their works checked, inhibited and frustrated by censorship. As in Italy different area had different government, no one set of rules applied to censorship throughout the whole Italy. So an opera or spoken drama deemed by one such authority fit for public presentation, could be totally banned by another. The Austrian authorities in Milan were the mildest in the whole Italy, though here to the censorship became much more stringent after the 1848 revolution. Censorship in all parts of Italy was concerned with three issues: political offence, religious offence and moral offence. The latest interested the censors probably the least, but even in the Austrian territories this resulted in banning numerous romantic dramas, particularly the ones of Victor Hugo. Verdi, whose early years were spent largely in the Austrian territories, suffered comparatively little, as long as he was composing for Milan or Venice.

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Verdi (his whole name Giuseppe Fortunino Francesco Verdi) was born on the 10 of October 1813, in Le Roncole, a village in what is now the province of Parma in the region of Emilia; but at that time by far the greater part of Italy was still under the Napoleonic rule. He is the son of the taverner Carlo Giuseppe Verdi and spinner Luigia Uttini. When he was still a child, Verdi's parents moved from Piacenza to Busseto. At the age of seven, he was helping the local church organist; and at the age of twelve he was studying with the organist at the main church nearby Busseto, and shortly he became his assistant.

When he was twenty, already having several compositions to his credit, Verdi went to Milan to continue his studies. It was Milan that exerted the profound formative influence on him as man and artist. As he was refused a place at the conservatory, he took private lessons in counterpoint, also studied with Vincenzo Lavigna, composer and former La Scala musician; while attending operatic performances, as well as concerts of, specifically, German music. Milan's beau-monde association convinced him that he should pursue a career as a theatre composer.

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He returned to Busseto where he was passed over as maestro di cappella and became town music master in 1836. With the support of Antonio Barezzi, a local merchant and music lover who had long supported Verdi's musical ambitions in Milan, Verdi gave his first public performance at Barezzi's home in 1830.

Because he loved Verdi's music, Barezzi invited Verdi to be his daughter, Margherita's music teacher, and the two soon fell deeply in love. They got married on 4 of May, 1836 and Margherita gave birth to two children, Virginia Maria Luigia and Icilio Romano. Both died in infancy while Verdi was working on his first opera Oberto and, shortly afterwards, Margherita died on June 18, 1840. He settled in Milan in 1839 where his Oberto was accepted at La Scala and further operas commissioned. It was well received but his next, Un giorno di regno, failed totally; and his wife died during its composition. Verdi adored his wife and children, and he was devastated by their deaths.

He nearly gave up, but was fired by the libretto of Nabucco. In one of his letters he wrote: "…on my way I felt a sort of indefinable malaise, a deep sadness, a pain which dwelled up in my heart. I arrived home, threw the manuscript onto the table (…) the book opened (…). I glanced trough the lines which followed and was deeply moved. (…) I read one passage, I read two; then firm in my decision not to compose, I forced myself to close the book, and went off to bed!…But yes… Nabucco went round and round in my head! I couldn't sleep. I got up and read the libretto (…) by morning I knew Solera's libretto almost by heart" [th] .

In 1842 saw its successful production, which carried his reputation across Italy, Europe and the New World over the next five years. With Nabucco Verdi has begun his true artistic career. In this opera all the essential characteristics of late Verdi are present, and also Nabucco closes the experimental period of Oberto and Un giorno di regno.

Nabucco was followed by another opera also with marked political overtones, I lombardi alla prima crociata, also well received. Verdi's way of mixing melody, tragic and heroic situations struck a chord in that time when Italy struggled of having a complete freedom and unity.

The period Verdi later called his "years in the galleys" [5] now began, with a long and demanding series of operas to compose, in the main Italian centers and abroad: they include Ernani (1844), I due Foscari (1844), Giovanna d'Arco (1845), Alzira (1845), Attila (1846), Macbeth (1847), I masnadieri (1847), Il corsaro (1848), La battaglia di Legnano (1849), Luisa Miller (1849) and Stiffelio (1850); in Paris and London as well as Rome, Milan, Naples, Venice, Florence and Trieste (with a pause in 1846 when his health gave way). Features of these works include strong, somber stories, a vigorous, almost crude orchestral style that gradually grew fuller and richer, forceful vocal writing including broad lines in 9/8 and 12/8 meter and above all a seriousness in his determination to convey the full force of the drama. His models included late Rossini, Mercadante and Donizetti [6] . He took great care over the choice of topics and about the detailed planning of his librettos. He created his basic vocal types early, in Ernani the vigorous, determined baritone, the ardent, courageous but sometimes despairing tenor, the severe bass; among the women there is more variation.

The 'galley years' have their climax in the three great, probably the most popular operas Rigoletto, Il travore and La Traviata. First among them is Rigoletto, produced in Venice in 1851, had a huge success, as Verdi used unprecedented dramatic music. No less successful, in Rome, was the more direct Il trovatore (1853). Six weeks later La traviata (1853), the most personal and intimate of Verdi's operas, was a failure in Venice, but the following year, after some revision it has been well received at a different Venetian theatre. "The new simplicity of idiom in Rigoletto, Il trovatore and La traviata is clearly seen in the absolute straightforwardness of the accompaniment figuration. There is no trace of complex and recondite texture found in the some of the earlier operas" [7] . There is richer harmonies and smoother part-writing. With this three operas, the dark drama, the heroics, the grace and pathos, Verdi had shown how extremely wide was his expressive range.

Later in 1853 he went - with Giuseppina Strepponi, the soprano with whom he had been living for several years, and whom he was to marry in 1859 - to Paris, to prepare Les vêpres siciliennes (I vespri siciliani - 1855) for the Opéra.

The next opera was Simon Boccanegra (1857), a drama about love and politics in medieval Genoa, given in Venice. His next opear is Un ballo in maschera (1859), about the assassination of a Swedish king. The opening was supposed to be in Naples but it was called off because of the censors and it was given instead in Rome.

At this time Verdi was very much involved in political activities, as representative of Busseto (where he lived) in the provincial parliament; and later he was elected to the national parliament, and eventually he was a senator.

His next opera La forza del destino had its premiere at St. Petersburg in 1862. A revised Macbeth was given in Paris in 1865, but his most important work there was Don Carlos (1864), a grand opera after Schiller in which personal dramas of love, comradeship and liberty are set against the persecutions of the Inquisition and the Spanish monarchy. Later this was revised several times for the Italians.

Verdi returned to Italy, to live at Genoa. He began work on Aida, which was first performed at Cairo Opera House at the end of 1871. Aida is again in the grand opera tradition, and more sreched in structure than Don Carlos. Verdi was ready to give up opera. His works of 1873 are a string quartet and the Requiem. In 1879 the composer-poet Boito and the publisher Ricordi convinced Verdi to write another opera, Otello. This was completed only in 1886. Probably Verdi's most powerful tragic work, had its premiere in Milan in 1887. The opera is memorable for Verdi's one of the best orchestral writing and the approach to a more continuous musical texture. His next and also last opera was another Shakespeare work, Falstaff (1893) which he started two years later - his first comedy since the beginning of his career. He spent his last years in Milan, rich, authoritarian but charitable, much visited, revered and honored. He died on the 27 January 1901, and buried in Milan in Casa di Riposo. It is said that thousands of people lined the streets to attend his funeral. [th] 

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As mentioned above, Rigoletto is part of the trilogy in the climax of Verdi's 'galley years', middle-period operas.

In 1850 Verdi was commissioned by the La Fenice opera house in Venice to write a new opera. At this time he was already a very well known composer, so he had a degree of freedom to choose the works he would prefer to set to music. With different pieces in mind, Verdi finally decided upon Victor Hugo's Le roi s'amuse. As he didn't want to delay his project, Verdi wrote to Piave (whom he worked with on different previous operas): "Oh Le roi s'amuse is the greatest plot, and perhaps the greatest drama of modern times. Tribolet is a creation worthy of Shakespeare!!… It is a subject that cannot fail." [9] Tribolet is the hunchback jester in Hugo's play who was to become Verdi's Rigoletto. It was a highly controversial subject and Hugo himself had already trouble with censorship in France, which had banned productions of his play after its first performance nearly twenty years earlier. Hugo's play depicted a king (Francis I of France) as an immoral and cynical womanizer, something that was not accepted in Europe during the Restoration period.

As Piave assured Verdi that the Austrian would not pick on the subject, he set to work on the libretto. Obviously the censors did find it more than a bit offensive, and three weeks before the opening of the opera they had to reschedule things. The Fenice Theatre received the following letter form the Austrian authorities: "His Excellency (…) directs me to communicate to you his profound regret that the poet Piave and the celebrated maestro Verdi should have not chosen a more worthy vehicle to display their talents than the revolting immorality and obscene triviality of the libretto of La Maledizione (…). His above mentioned Excellency has decided that the performance shall be absolutely forbidden, and wishes me at the same time to request you not to make further enquiries in this matter." [10] It is not surprising that the censorship authorities objected the story, as it was about a debauched and conscienceless monarch, which offended religious properties by making a curse, and he was also by the standards of the time immoral and obscene.

However, Verdi still made further enquiries to fight for the subject, for the obvious reason as he already had done so much work on it. Piave had recast the libretto as the censors required it but Verdi rejected this revised version: "I have had very little time to examine the new libretto. But I have see enough to know that in this form it lacks character and meaning, and the dramatic points have all been nullified". [11] Eventually a compromise has arrived which satisfied Verdi, as most parts left intact only the place and the names of the characters being changed. The jester's name was changed from Triboletto to Rigoletto (from the French rigoler - to guffaw), and this also became the title of the opera.

Rigoletto was an enormous success at its firs performance on the 11 of March, 1851, and it continued to be a success ever since. Soon after Venice it was played all over Italy, but in order to pass certain local censors it was produced under different names, such as Viscardello, Clara di Perth and Lionello.

Rigoletto is an opera in three acts, where act one has two scenes.

Act I, Scene I. At a ball at the ducal court of Mantua, the hunchbacked jester Rigoletto (baritone) gossips with the courtiers about the womanizer Duke, stirring them to plans of vengeance. Count Monterone (baritone) appeals to the Duke (tenor) for the return of his dishonored daughter, but is cruelly mocked by Rigoletto. Enraged, Monterone calls down a father's curse on the terrified jester.

Act I, Scene II, Outside his house, Rigoletto encounters Sparafucile (bass), a professional assassin, but has no need of his services. Rigoletto warns his daughter Gilda (soprano) to not show herself and to stay in their home. She does not reveal to him that she has fallen in love with a handsome young man she has encountered on her way to church. The person she fall in love with is the Duke, who appears as soon as Rigoletto has left, bribing Gilda's nurse, Giovanna (mezzo-soprano), to let him in and to speak well of him to Gilda. He tells her he is a poor student. After he leaves, the courtiers come to abduct Gilda, believing her to be Rigoletto's mistress. They trick Rigoletto into assisting them, assuring him that it is the Countess Ceprano they are abducting from the neighboring house. When he realizes what has happened, he is distraught. He remembers the curse.

Act II. Marullo (baritone), Ceprano (bass), Borsa (tenor) and other courtiers describe their abduction of Gilda to the Duke. He is delighted to discover that she has been brought to his palace and awaits him in his bedroom. Rigoletto now enters, feigning indifference but desperately seeking signs of the whereabouts of his daughter. When he realizes what has happened he first curses, then pleads with the courtiers for her return, but to no avail. Gilda appears with not many clothes on, and Rigoletto swears vengeance on the Duke.

Act III. Takes place outside the town, on the right bank of the Minicio, near a dilapidated house, Sparafucile's inn. The Duke has been lured to the inn by Sparafucile's sister Maddalena (contralto). Rigoletto has paid Sparafucile to kill the Duke and to deliver his body in a sack so that he may himself throw it into the Mincio. Rigoletto brings Gilda with him to spy on the inn, hoping to reinforce the notion that the Duke is not a man of honour in affairs of the heart. Gilda is unimpressed. Rigoletto sends her home to change into men's clothing for their journey to Verona. Infatuated with the Duke herself, Maddalena begs her brother to spare him and to murder the jester instead. His sense of professional responsibility offended, Sparafucile refuses, but does go so far as to agree that if anyone else should happen to show up at the inn on this wild and stormy night, he will murder them instead. Gilda, returning and hearing all this, sees her chance to help the man she loves. She boldly walks up to the door of the inn, knocks, is admitted and promptly stabbed and stuffed into the sack for Rigoletto. Rigoletto is just about to throw the sack in the river when he hears the Duke still singing in the inn. Wildly he opens the sack to find his dying daughter, who with her last breath assures him that she will pray for him with her mother in heaven. Again, Rigoletto recalls Monterone's curse.

In October 1854, Verdi wrote to Piave: " Listen to me: Rogoletto will live longer than Ernani. (…) Rigoletto is somewhat more revolutionary opera, and therefore newer, both in its form and style." [th] Verdi was comparing Rigoletto with Ernani, but the comparison would have been valid, if he compared Rigoletto with any of his earlier operas.

After the first performance, in the Il Lombardo Vento a critic wrote that the music was: …"of a truly new kind. It is an unbroken fabric of instrumentation, easy, flowing, spontaneous, which either speaks softly to your soul, or awakes you to pity, or horrifies you, according to the development of the drama." [12] 

In this opera Verdi broke free from the habits of the ottocento operatic tradition, and he probably reached a level where he understood the meaning of every detail of form and style within that tradition.

In this somewhat revolutionary work, it wasn't the privileged status of the solo aria or ensembles, not even the grand finale style (actually Rigoletto doesn't have a grand finale) or the formality of movements that Verdi was challenging; his target was the certain types of formal design, such as the double aria with cantabile and repeated cabaletta; clarity and balance of musical design involved detachability of the aria or ensemble from the dramatic action. The source of the innovatory boldness was Verdi's belief that the opera was able to deal with a wider range of character-types than had traditionally not been allowed: jesters, philandering noblemen, girls hopelessly in love, assassins and harlots.

The formal buildup of the movement is very interesting. There is no finale in the usual way, style. Apart from having a secondary role in the opening of act one and two, there is only one formal choral movement (and this is for men only, the opera has no female chorus). There are five duets and also five arias. The number is not exceptional, as Verdi had similar numbers in some of his previous operas; but what is very exceptional is that only one of them, the Duke's aria in the second act, follows the traditional double-aria form. The rest are single movement arias, two of them of a very modest proportion - the Questa o quella and La donna e mobile.

The way in which the arias, ensembles and the 'tableau forms' such as grand finales and choruses, are arranged is unusual as well. The introduction being almost entirely given to the male voice, one or more 'cavatina' or 'arie di sortita' in which the prima donna or maybe one or two other principals made their appearances; with that sort of opera was the Italian audience familiar with. In Rigoletto the orchestral and vocal colors are very dark introducing the gruesome 'parlante' duet of Rigoletto and Sparafucile. Not only Rigoletto and the Duke, but even Gilda too forgoes her 'aria di sortita'. Instead she makes her appearance in two duets with Rigoletto and the Duke, and her first and only aria is the one-movement Caro nome. The act ends with violent and quick stage action, accompanied by not quite symphonic orchestral music and single exclamation of Rigoletto. None of these things were 'permitted' in the ottocento opera. From all of the scenes of the opera probably the introduction was that one that undergone the most impressive transformation. In Rigoletto Verdi has reach a new level of musical continuity as well.

The opera itself is a masterpiece, that is why is still so popular. But obviously beside the very big success of the time and quite a lot of positive reviews, there were comments that did see the potentials of the opera but still could not get into the whole atmosphere of it. The critic of the Gazetta previligiata di Vvenezia said: "An opera like this cannot be judged by one night. Yesterday we were overwhelmed by the novelty, or, rather the oddness of the subject; novelty in the music, in style, in the very form of the piece, and did not get a complete idea of it.(…)The composer, or the poet, seized with late-blooming love for the satanic [in art], which is out style and passe (…) We cannot, in good conscience praise such a taste." [13] Later in the article the critic did praise the instrumentation and the orchestral work. So as we can see, it wasn't just the censor, who was against certain tastes in the drama/opera, but some individuals found the drama just too much.

Rigoletto is a masterpice, because it stepped out from the usual ideology of its day and it brought a new era not just in Verdi's composition life but in the history of music as well.

From Rigoletto onwards each Verdi opera had a strong individual flavor. The next operas after Rigoletto, La traviata and Il Trovatore cannot be mistaken for one another. Each has its individual distinctive orchestral color, overall dramatic form and melodic shape. During a rehearsal, Verdi said to Felice Varesi (the Rigoletto singer), that he was very proud and he never expected to do any better then the Bella figlia dell' amore quartet. "In a sense he was right. No one could do better: Verdi continued to do differently." [14]