Himself: Despite his innate musical ability (he began studying music at the age of three), Verdi’s application for the Milan Conservatory was rejected due to his lack of piano technique and discipline. In 1839, he moved to Milan and he had his first success with Nabucco and also his first failure, with the comedy Un giorno di negro. He only composed one other comedy in his career: Falstaff, his last opera.
Significantly, the final scene is a massive fugue –a piece of music based on imitation in which different voices sing the same melody, one voice ‘chasing’ another. Maybe Verdi wanted to show everyone how well he could write in contrapuntal style at the end of his career? The lyrics could also be read as a final message for posterity. They say: ‘Tutto nel mondo è burla’, which means ‘everything in the world is just a joke’.
His times: It has been said that the phenomenon that is Verdi is unimaginable without the Risorgimento, the Italian unification movement. Verdi lived in the time in which the different small Italian states turned into the country we know nowadays and he soon became a symbol of the new Italy. ‘Va pensiero’ from Nabucco today still remains an unofficial hymn of the country; in public demostrations people used to cry ‘Viva VERDI!’ meaning ‘Long life Vittorio Emmanuele Re D’Italia’; and the composer was elected member of the Italian Senate as a mark of honour in 1874.
His music: Verdi had the best ability that an opera composer can have –to write melodies that communicate a character’s emotion and stir similar feelings in the audience. Theatrical instinct and intelligence to manage his own career did the rest to pave his way to success. His works are a plethora of popular tunes that are easily recognizable still today, and even those who have never been in an Opera House are able to identify some of his most celebrated scores. This is why his music has an impressive reputation among opera lovers, although it is sometimes regarded as less innovative as Wagner’s or even Puccini’s.
We’ll be performing Verdi’s comic opera Falstaff at Glyndebourne from 19 May- 14 July. More details here.