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Thread: Help me start with Verdi

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    Senior Member lextune's Avatar
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    Default Help me start with Verdi

    I am a concert pianist. The piano, and it's embarrassment of riches have occupied most of my life. But in 1990, at the impressionable age of 19, public television broadcast Wagner's Ring from the Met (Maestro Levin).
    It was a big deal for a young musician. Back in those days it was far more difficult and/or expensive to gain exposure to these mysterious, towering, compositions. I was greatly affected by seeing them. After those four nights, I was hooked on the Ring. And since that long ago summer, I have studied the full scores, read a dozen or more books on the tetralogy, acquired several DVD/Blu Ray sets, and another dozen more CD recordings of the cycle....

    ...but the piano was still my focus, and few other operas entered my life, each a story unto themselves I suppose.
    I won't bore you with all the stories, but it is easy enough to list the other operas I know and love:
    Mozart - Die Zauberflote, Don Giovanni, Cosi fan tutte, Le nozze di Figaro
    Beethoven - Fidelio
    Ligeti - Le Grand Macabre

    Some might say that those six operas, along with the four dramas of Der Ring des Nibelungen constitute a pretty good operatic repertoire, but as a full time serious musician, who knew vast swaths of the gigantic piano literature, and had derived such love, and musical knowledge, from the ten aforementioned operas, it always felt small. Stunted.

    I am now in my late 40s, and thankfully have more free time to expand my operatic knowledge. In the last few years I have gotten to know Tristan und Isolde and Parsifal. And not surprisingly, I love them both, and only wish I had gotten to them earlier in my musical life. To a lesser extent I have gotten to know all the bleeding chunks of Tannhauser and Lohengrin, (I have always know the preludes and overtures to most of Wagner's works, but still have not watched a production all the way through of those two wonders; coming soon). I have also watched, and was delighted by, Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier, and I have sunk my teeth into Debussy's Pelleas et Melisande quite a bit too, (magical!).
    Now I have been thinking about Verdi. I know I could have easily searched for various opinions on where to start with Verdi, (which opera, which production, etc.) but I wanted to tell my story to our community here, and hear any opinions(loves!) that anyone might feel compelled to share. Thanks for reading.

    -Lex
    Last edited by lextune; Nov-25-2018 at 18:34. Reason: typoes...

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    Senior Member Becca's Avatar
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    Based on the operas that you do know and like, you would probably be best served by late Verdi, i.e. Falstaff and Otello.

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    Senior Member WildThing's Avatar
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    While recognizing the superiority of Otello and Falstaff, the one that I enjoy the most is Aida. It has the spectacle, it has incredible tunes and evocative melodies. And some really beautiful heartfelt moments. The Muti recording with Domingo and Caballé is a great way to get to know the opera.


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    Senior Member Granate's Avatar
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    Actually, look for maestro Riccardo Muti's Verdi catalogue. He's really good in the middle-age operas. But talking about operas, I would go from Nabucco first to Macbeth (revised), then Otello to complete the Shackespeare section, then La Forza del Destino (avoid for now Rigoletto, La Traviata, Ernani, Luisa Miller, Un Ballo in Maschera & Il Trovatore), the mighty Don Carlo (5 acts in Italian) and Aida (which length suits your Wagnerian custom). And then, finish with Simon Boccanegra (revised). Others may tell you about Falstaff, which is the composer's final comedy.

    I cannot help you if you are looking for video reccomendations. But my fav Stereo CDs often match Riccardo Muti except for Abbado (Simon) Molinari-Pradelli (La Forza), Gardelli (Nabucco) and Solti (Don Carlo).

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    Senior Member DavidA's Avatar
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    I started with Rigoletto conducted by Solti with Merrill, Kraus and Moffo. This was about 50+ years ago and I bought the LPs and nearly played the grooves off them. To my mind, Rigoletto is the place to start.

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    Traviata all the way! Why not start with one of the most popular operas of all time?

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    Senior Member howlingfantods's Avatar
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    Given what you like and where you started, which is pretty similar to my operatic route, I’d start with his late dramas — Otello and Don Carlo specifically. If those work for you, then Aida, Rigoletto, Un Ballo in Maschera.

    I generally prefer live recordings over studio—my current recommendation for Otello is the Kleiber/Domingo/Margaret Price from 1980 on Golden Melodram, and for Don Carlo are either the 1975 or 1976 Karajan Salzburg performances from opera depot—one with Domingo and one with Carreras.

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    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    Advising anyone about what they "should" listen to or study is obviously presumptuous. All I can say is that I too knew Wagner before most of Verdi, I even knew Wozzeck before most of Verdi, and I had no need to start with the usual "easy" Verdi operas filled with catchy tunes (nothing wrong with catchy tunes, of course). The first Verdi opera I really loved was Otello, and as it's an inspired and sophisticated masterpiece of musical drama, I would say you'd be impressed. My second favorite was La Traviata, probably just because I had a lovely recording with Rosanna Carteri, Cesare Valletti and Leonard Warren under Pierre Monteux, who made the piece as fragrant and touching as it should be. If you're accustomed to operas with meaningful stories, as you appear to be, you may want to put off Il Trovatore and Ernani (unless throwing babies into bonfires or committing suicide at your wedding because you promised someone you would appeals to you), but among earlier Verdi there's always his other Shakespeare adaptation, Macbeth. The live recording with Callas is "horse concourse," though the recording quality is nothing to celebrate.

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    People have made good suggestions, but I agree with Traviata. In fact, that is the opera I started with. I still think Verdi’s best are Traviata and Trovatore, but his whole body of work is amazing. These two just hold a special place in my heart, because musically they are so wonderful. Welcome to Verdi.

    I’d get the Callas Verdi recital CDs, too. Really spectacular to hear her singing these roles.

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    Senior Member aussiebushman's Avatar
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    Yes - Traviata, but for a great combination of drama, fabulous music and many superb recorded versions, Rigoletto has much to commend it to anyone wanting to engage with Verdi.

    Though not my personal favorite, the "definitive" version is generally regarded as the Tullio Serafin (EMI 1955) recording with Gobbi and Callas. IMHO De Stefano is too coarse for the role of the aristocratic duke and although I am no great Callas lover, this is one of her best roles. My personal favorite is the old mono version with Merrill, Peters and Bjorlng - this should still be available on Naxos.

    It always surprises me that Simon Boccanegra does not get more attention, The work was revised by Verdi many times and the final version was not as "dark" as the first version but is still full of dramatic intrigue and glorious music. Get the Abaddo version if at all possible.. Here is a Utube preview:
    http://https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a0aG8dYm8l4
    And here is an excellent review:
    https://www.gramophone.co.uk/editori...mon-boccanegra

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  20. #11
    Senior Member lextune's Avatar
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    I thought I would start Otello last night, but I ended up listening to Act III of Krauss' '53 Siegfried, lol. For the umpteenth time....
    I will get to Maestro Verdi sooner or later! ....thanks to all who have posted their suggestions.

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    Do you like Franz Liszt? There are some Liszt paraphrases/transcriptions from Verdi operas: Rigoletto, Il Trovatore, Aida, I Lombardi, Don Carlo, Simon Boccanegra, and Ernani.

    If you don't know them I might suggest starting there to see what catches your ear.



    For another approach I might ask how you got into the Mozart, Beethoven, and Ligeti that you enjoy. For the Ring it was seeing them live. Was it seeing these others live, too? Or seeing a particularly compelling version on video, or listening to just the audio?

    Personally I don't think it matters much which mid-to-late period Verdi opera you start with (so excluding those before Rigoletto from 1851). The frequently performed ones are done enough that there are good recordings out there, and DVDs of productions to fit whatever style you prefer. They're all fine, but none of them are so remarkable that I feel like encouraging one over the others. (Everyone has their favorites, but, as you may note from this thread, they don't always overlap).

    And if you have the ability to attend any opera companies near you, odds are good that they will be performing Verdi in the next year or so. If you have a chance to see an upcoming performance, start exploring that one via audio or video recordings. (Or don't force yourself and listen to what you want and experience it new in the theater).
    Last edited by mountmccabe; Dec-04-2018 at 18:51.

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  23. #13
    Senior Member DavidA's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by aussiebushman View Post
    Yes - Traviata, but for a great combination of drama, fabulous music and many superb recorded versions, Rigoletto has much to commend it to anyone wanting to engage with Verdi.

    Though not my personal favorite, the "definitive" version is generally regarded as the Tullio Serafin (EMI 1955) recording with Gobbi and Callas. IMHO De Stefano is too coarse for the role of the aristocratic duke and although I am no great Callas lover, this is one of her best roles. My personal favorite is the old mono version with Merrill, Peters and Bjorlng - this should still be available on Naxos.

    It always surprises me that Simon Boccanegra does not get more attention, The work was revised by Verdi many times and the final version was not as "dark" as the first version but is still full of dramatic intrigue and glorious music. Get the Abaddo version if at all possible.. Here is a Utube preview:
    http://https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a0aG8dYm8l4
    And here is an excellent review:
    https://www.gramophone.co.uk/editori...mon-boccanegra
    I believe the 1955 Serafin version has Stella - not Callas - as Violetta. Callas was not available due to a previous recording with Cetra. Someone please correct me if I'm wrong.
    Last edited by DavidA; Dec-05-2018 at 21:24.

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    Senior Member Granate's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DavidA View Post
    I believe the 1955 Serafin version has Stella - not Callas - as Violetta. Callas was not available due to a previous recording with Cetra. Someone please correct me if I'm wrong.
    aussie means the 1955 Scala Rigoletto in studio, don't worry.

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    Senior Member lextune's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mountmccabe View Post
    Do you like Franz Liszt? There are some Liszt paraphrases/transcriptions from Verdi operas: Rigoletto, Il Trovatore, Aida, I Lombardi, Don Carlo, Simon Boccanegra, and Ernani.
    I love Liszt. I'm sure I have heard them all. I know the Rigoletto paraphrase very well. But it is not a bad idea to revisit the others. Thanks.

    Quote Originally Posted by mountmccabe View Post
    For another approach I might ask how you got into the Mozart, Beethoven, and Ligeti that you enjoy. For the Ring it was seeing them live. Was it seeing these others live, too? Or seeing a particularly compelling version on video, or listening to just the audio?
    I got to know the Mozart, Beethoven, and Ligeti from the audio alone. I did eventually get all of them on various DVDs though, (Oh how I wish there would be another video production of the Ligeti).

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