Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Singing Verdi, Part II

I have decided to rewrite my earlier entry on singing Verdi.  Enough time has passed that I can no longer remember what I wrote before, but do remember that I have reconsidered.

For purposes of this article Nabucco 1842, Ernani 1844, Attila 1846, Macbeth 1847, Louisa Miller 1849, Rigoletto 1851, La Traviata 1853 and Il Trovatore also 1853 will be considered together as a group, and the remaining later operas as another group.  Nabucco was his first big success.  

Verdi shows an enormous amount of continuity with Donizetti who died in 1848.  There is the bass drum, for instance.  I like this paragraph from Wikipedia:  “Verdi's predecessors who influenced his music were Rossini, Bellini, Giacomo_Meyerbeer and, most notably, Gaetano Donizetti and Saverio Mercadante. With the exception of Otello and Aida, he was free of Wagner's influence. Although respectful of Gounod, Verdi was careful not to learn anything from the Frenchman whom many of Verdi's contemporaries regarded as the greatest living composer.”  The lack of Wagnerian influence is the reason we are discussing Verdi’s early operas.  And certainly one hears nothing of Gounod.  If one did, Verdi would surely have dropped out of our awareness, too.  With the exception of Meyerbeer, the principle proponent of Grand Opera, all of these influences are Italian.

Until he was quite old and composed Falstaff Verdi wrote no comedies.  The closest to Donizetti, I suppose, are Rigoletto and La Traviata where the seriousness of the stories still leave a degree of lightness in the coloratura.  One still hears bel canto, or at least the awareness of bel canto.  In Verdi there is a need for rhythmic drive in the still often very flowery coloratura.

But Verdi intended a more intense drama than anything attempted by Donizetti.  Certainly Verdi’s tenors are noticeably heavier than anything in Donizetti.  [Sentence written with no actual knowledge of "anything in Donizetti"]  Sometimes he overshot.  Manrico in Il Trovatore borders on the impossible.  

I decided to rewrite this because of the fact that the two Verdi screamer roles, Abigaille in Nabucco and Lady Macbeth from Macbeth, are both from this early period.  I call them screamer roles because that is what one generally hears.  Sopranos who make their fame on Lady Macbeth generally rapidly develop a wobble.  Callas did it a few times and gave it up.  Leontyne Price, probably the greatest Verdi soprano, refused to sing it at all.  And most established sopranos avoid Abigaille like the plague.

Maria Guleghina sings both roles very well.  She seems to have specialized of late in screamer roles and is the exception that proves the rule.  She waited until maturity to try this.

The undesirability of this seems to have occurred to Verdi, since operas of his later period never cross into the realm of complete impossibility.  He settles into the spinto heaviness across the board.  The heavy Verdi mezzo begins with Il Trovatore, the transition to mature Verdi, and reappears in Aida, Don Carlo and the Requiem.  He begins to feel secure in his handling of voices and settled in his style.  I suppose you could still destroy your voice in these roles, but I think it would be your own fault.

Weight in the voice for Italian repertoire in all voice categories reaches its peak in Verdi.  The verismo composers wrote in a different style, but the vocal requirements are not heavier.

For sopranos the model for Donizetti opera seria is Caballe.  For Verdi it’s Price.

I have decided to change the example to Maria Guleghina singing something from Macbeth. The part is simply insane. A decade later she still does not have a wobble and still sings this role. That alone is amazing.

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