Tuesday, September 20, 2005


This is the latest in the previously unwatched videos series. You thought I had run out by now.

Verdi’s Stiffelio is about a protestant minister and his marital difficulties. At the time of its composition (1850?) it was considered shocking, and in Italy the church still had quite a lot of political authority. The opera was so heavily censored that Verdi withdrew it.

In 1992 a score for Verdi’s original version appeared and immediately the Metropolitan Opera prepared a revival starring Placido Domingo as the preacher Stiffelio and Sharon Sweet as his wife Lina. The third major role is Count Stanker, Lina’s father, sung by Vladimir Chernov. He is a baritone, of course.

Stiffelio has been away preaching in other cities and has left his wife at home to get into trouble. Do you suppose Billy Graham’s wife stays at home? Never mind.

The conflict here is an odd one. Both Stiffelio and the Count see Lina’s affair as an offense against honor. Their honor, not hers. The Count considers killing himself to restore his honor, and then settles on murdering the boy friend. This logic is a little obscure. How exactly does murder make you more honorable? It’s an opera thing.

Stiffelio feels rage but understands that his life as a minister is based deeply in concept of forgiveness. He settles on divorce as the path to honor. This logic is a little easier to follow. Lina, who is deeply ashamed, agrees and signs the divorce document.

In this opera we have three screamers, instead of just the screamer soprano. Bombastic Verdi is the order of the day. I think the most popular Verdi operas show more dimension to the characters than this. La Traviata never descends into bombast. Rigoletto also wants revenge, but in his “Cortiggiani” aria shows his softer emotions. The characters in Aida are complex and three dimensional.

But in Stiffelio we get unrelenting rage. The final scene is softer. They are in a church, and Stiffelio, speaking from the pulpit, finds that Christ has forgiven the woman taken in adultery, and forgives Lina.

I predict that Stiffelio will remain a minor opera.


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