2011: Risorgimento Concert
Program notes by Victor DeRenzi
In Celebration of the 150th Anniversary of the Unification of Italy, Sarasota Opera Proudly Presents
The Risogimento Concert
Sunday, March 20, 2011
“Honor to these brave men! Honor to all Italy, which in this moment is truly great. You can be certain the hour of her liberation has struck. It is the people that want it and when the people want, there is no absolute power that can resist.
“They can do what they wish, they can intrigue as much as they like, those who strive to impose themselves by brute force, but they will not succeed in cheating the people of their rights!
“Yes, yes, a few more years, perhaps only a few more months, and Italy will be free, united and a republic. What else should she be?”
Verdi wrote this in a letter to his librettist and friend, Francesco Maria Piave, on April 21, 1848, the year of revolutions throughout Europe. However, the desire of Italians to have a unified country, in place of its many small governments and its areas occupied by foreign rule, began many years before that time and was not fulfilled until many years after.
This concert celebrates the official 150th anniversary of the unification of Italy and the movement called the Risorgimento (uprising) that led to it. This event can be celebrated through literature or art, but as an opera company the obvious way for us to acknowledge it is with music. There are a variety of pieces to choose from in the extraordinary amount of patriotic music written in the early 1800s, not only by famous composers but also by those who are relegated to footnotes in music history books. We will perform the music of Verdi, not only because of our long term commitment to his works through our Verdi Cycle, but also because he was the most celebrated Italian composer writing during the years surrounding the Unification. The one work not by Verdi is from a later opera that, in its way, celebrates Italy, L’amore dei tre re.
“I want to remain that which I am, that is to say, a peasant of Le Roncole.”
Verdi in a letter to Ercolano Balestro
In the first years of a unified Italy, Verdi was a Senator, and he remained an important name in Italy and throughout the world. He had an extraordinary love for his homeland. Although he was not unaware of his country’s shortcomings, he never stopped loving Italy. He could have chosen to live anywhere, but when he settled down and bought the land where he would live for the last 50 years of his life, he did so only a few miles from where he was born.
It took Italy many years to become the country we know today. Anyone who has spent time there knows that a journey of a short distance reveals different landscapes, different food and different art. In the 1800s, there was also a stronger and more apparent difference in dialects than there is today.
Many people contributed towards the Unification. With his historic novel, I promessi sposi (The Betrothed), Alessandro Manzoni unified the Italian language by modernizing the Tuscan dialect. With his writings, Giuseppe Mazzini unified the thought of the nation and encouraged the idea of a republic. Giuseppe Garibaldi, “the Hero of the Two Worlds,” helped unify with the troops he led as general, and Camillo Cavour unified the country with his political maneuvers, eventually becoming Italy’s first Prime Minister.
But the most important unification, that of the emotions and the hearts of the people, was left to Giuseppe Verdi. With his melodies and the dramatic energy of his operas, “He cried and loved for us all,” as an Italian poet said after his death.
I vespri siciliani
I vespri siciliani (The Sicilian Vespers) tells the story of an important event in Italian history, the uprising of 1282. At the sound of the vesper bells, the people of Sicily rose up to overthrow French rule in Palermo. In this overture, one of his most popular works throughout the years, Verdi uses themes from the opera to create the complex world of the Italian struggle for independence.
This opera was performed by Sarasota Opera in 1994, when we presented its American premiere in French, as Verdi originally wrote it.
Towards our goal of performing all of Verdi’s music, the next four selections you will hear were written by Verdi for I Lombardi alla prima crociata. Verdi often changed music to meet the needs of certain singers, and help ensure the success of a production. I Lombardi is Verdi’s only opera based on an Italian literary source and was his first major operatic success dealing with an Italian subject. It was performed often in the 1840s and 50s, not only because of its energetic, often inspired music, but also for its patriotic subject of Italians at the first crusades.
I Lombardi alla prima crociata
Cabaletta “Come poteva un angelo”
The tenor, Oronte, has an aria and cabaletta in Act II. There are three different versions of the cabaletta, including the one heard during our performances this season. The first one you will hear this evening is a substitute cabaletta written for Antonio Poggi. Poggi sang the premiere of Giovanna d’Arco in 1845, and Verdi wrote this cabaletta for him when he performed I Lombardi in July of 1843, in the city of Senigallia.
I Lombardi alla prima crociata
Cabaletta “Eterna fè che il Vero”
This piece is also to be substituted for the same cabaletta, and was written for the tenor Nicola Ivanoff. Although Ivanoff never sang in a Verdi premiere, he was very famous in his time. Verdi wrote three substitute pieces for him, including this, written in 1848. The text for this cabaletta is different from the other two versions.
I Lombardi alla prima crociata
Cantabile “O madre, dal cielo soccorri al mio pianto”
The third Lombardi excerpt is a version of Giselda’s Act II cantabile “Se vano è il pregare.” It is not certain if this orchestration of the aria was ever performed, but it appears in Verdi’s original autograph score directly after the standard version of the aria, as it has been performed over the years.
I Lombardi alla prima crociata
Second Act Finale “No, giusta causa non è d’Iddio”
This transposition of the Act II finale was made for Erminia Frezzolini, the soprano who created the role of Giselda. Since the original finale may have been too difficult for her, Verdi prepared this for her appearances in the role during the summer of 1843. This version is also in the autograph score and is a step lower than heard in current performances of I Lombardi. It is possible that Verdi preferred this transposition to the original key, but it was never put in any of the scores. He did use this transposition for the French revision of I Lombardi, re-named Jérusalem.
These alternative pieces are performed for the first time by Sarasota Opera at this concert. The last three selections are most likely their U.S. premiere.
Mass for Rossini
“Libera me domine de morte aeterna”
Before Italy was unified and was still “a geographical expression,” great artists were considered Italian, and were not necessarily identified by their region. Verdi took great pride in, and had a great love for those artists he considered his countrymen, even if they were not from his political area: Palestrina, Dante, Manzoni, Michelangelo.
When Rossini, who was born in Pesaro in the region of Le Marche, died on November 13, 1868, Verdi wrote: “A great name has disappeared from the world! He had the most widespread, the most popular reputation of our time, and he was a glory of Italy.” Verdi wished to honor him, and proposed that Italy’s leading composers join in the gesture of a communal Requiem Mass by each composing a section. A committee gathered 13 important composers of the time and asked them each to contribute a movement, with Verdi taking the final section, “Libera me.” He stated “Once, when I used to play the organ and often accompanied these masses, I had a great predilection for the Libera.”
The mass was completed, but for a number of reasons was not performed when it was intended, nor during Verdi’s lifetime. Three years later, Verdi rewrote much of “Libera me” and used it in the Requiem Mass he wrote to honor the author, Alessandro Manzoni, whom he considered to be the other “glory of Italy” of his time.
The premiere of the Mass for Rossini, and therefore of this movement, did not take place until a performance in Stuttgart, in 1988. This performance is the Sarasota Opera premiere of the work.
I am “a simple artist who can boast of only one virtue: he loves and always has loved his native land.”
Verdi in a letter to Camillo Cavour
Duet “Tardo per gli anni, e tremulo”
Attila was a frequently performed opera in Verdi’s time. This duet never failed to bring applause with its line “You will have the Universe, but let Italy be mine.” The text was often quoted outside the opera house during the years leading up to Unification.
Attila was performed in its entirety by Sarasota Opera in 2007.
Aria and cabaletta “Ah si, ben mio” “Di quella pira”
Although not a Risorgimento work, in that this opera takes place in medieval Spain, Il trovatore had great significance in the 1850s. It was performed all over the world and brought Verdi and the Italian cause to the forefront of the international scene. The strength of this piece as well as the beauty and simplicity of its music made it so memorable that its melodies became extremely popular, sung by the great singers of the time as well as in arrangements performed by vocal and instrumental amateurs. Verdi once wrote a friend “When you go to the Indies or the center of Africa you will hear Il trovatore.” His exaggeration was only a step from truth. In April of 1859, when Camillo Cavour received the news that war was declared, which he knew would bring the final step of the Unification, he opened his window and started singing “Di quella pira.”
Il trovatore was performed by Sarasota Opera in 1993 and in its French version, Le Trouvère in 2002.
Verdi wrote this extended Overture for the La Scala Premiere of Aida. After the rehearsal he decided not to use it, but to keep the original, simple prelude to the opera. Similar to the famous overture to La forza del destino, it combines different themes from the opera.
This overture was last performed by Sarasota Opera on March 27, 1999.
“How really beautiful this Italy of ours is.”
Verdi in a letter to Contessa Clarina Maffei during his first trip to Florence.
L’amore dei tre re
“Italia è tutto il mio ricordo!"
This selection from Montemezzi’s opera, which was premiered in 1913, expresses the love a foreign conqueror feels for Italy. It is the one piece on this concert which is not by Verdi. The conqueror conquered, stayed, fell in love with Italy, and became Italian, as have painters, writers, scientists, musicians and other visitors over the centuries. I feel this work’s strong emotional statement speaks for many of us who have been enchanted by the spell of Italy.
L’amore dei tre re was performed as part of Sarasota Opera’s Masterworks Revival Series in 2003.
“Suona la tromba”
Giuseppe Mazzini, the patriot-philosopher, asked Verdi to compose a chorus to the poetry of Goffredo Mameli. Mameli also wrote the words for Fratelli d’Italia, which eventually became the Italian national anthem. On October 18, 1848 Verdi sent the finished hymn to Mazzini with a letter that included the following: “May this Hymn be sung soon on the plains of Lombardy, among the music of the cannon.” It never became as famous as Mazzini would have liked, but its composition shows us Verdi’s enthusiasm and support for the Unification.
This chorus was last performed by Sarasota Opera on March 21, 2002.
I vespri siciliani
“O tu, Palermo”
Written in French for Paris in 1855, this opera was immediately translated into Italian. Its music and ideals spoke directly to the Italian people. These arias describe each character’s love of Sicily and a desire for peace and self-rule. Although performed in many cities before the Unification, it was often given in a censored version as Giovanna de Guzman. The rulers that controlled the Italian lands were highly aware of the emotions that could be raised in an opera house.
This is the first time Sarasota Opera will perform these arias in Italian.
“Patria oppressa” “Ah, la paterna mano” “La patria tradita”
Although an Italian to his core, Verdi spoke to the hearts of all and against any oppression. He was always a very private person and felt people should not meddle in the affairs of others, political or personal.
In his opera Macbeth, written in 1847 and revised in 1865, Verdi wrote a very different opera from those that he had written before it. The story has no romantic love interest, and its style shows a new step in his musical and dramatic development. Yet, the chorus of Scottish refugees and the section directly following it, where the people of Scotland are incited to battle against their oppressor, is very much of the time and place when the opera was written, and very much Verdi.
Macbeth was performed by Sarasota Opera in both its original and revised versions in 2003.
“Va, pensiero sull’ali dorate”
The musical mood and text of this chorus is not necessarily what one would expect for an audience that was looking to forcefully expel its foreign oppressors. Premiered it 1842, when much of Northern Italy was under the yoke of the Austrians, this chorus became the piece most associated with Italy. Over the years, there has been talk of making it the Italian national anthem. I feel its most important message, found in the text, is that we must not forget our history, but use it to gain strength and to move forward.
Nabucco had its Sarasota Opera premiere in 1995. We have performed this chorus on many occasions.
After the Unification, Massimo D’Azeglio, an Italian statesman, said; “We have made Italy, now let us make Italians.” The person who did that more than anyone was Verdi. Born in 1813 in Le Roncole, in an area under French rule, he died an Italian in 1901 in Milano, having outlived the other major players in the Unification. At his death, the national period of mourning was 7 days longer than it had been for the King of Italy, who was assassinated the year before. The love the Italian people have felt for him and his music has made him one of Italy’s great glories.
Verdi once said “I am an Italian above all,” but if he were only “an Italian,” we would not be performing and listening to this music. His art goes beyond political and geographical borders to capture the human condition. In honoring the Risorgimento and the Unification, we must honor Verdi. In doing so, we honor all people who have fought and will fight for independence and freedom. He is part of the cultural heritage of us all.
Victor DeRenzi is Artistic Director of Sarasota Opera.