Why I Love Verdi
In Its Own Category of Genius
Opera has the power to transport its listeners into another world. All of us who love the art form (that probably includes most of you reading these pages) have experienced powerful emotions during performances of great works, even when the execution may be less than ideal. Inspired melodic line, linked with magical harmonies, can bypass our thinking processes and penetrate our souls with emotion, especially when infused with the visceral vocal timbre of the human voice. History’s top-drawer opera composers seem to share an aptitude for honing in on this combination. Maybe that’s why they’re considered the “top”—Handel, Mozart, Weber, Bellini, Puccini, Wagner, Strauss—the list goes on (but not at all endlessly).
In its own category of genius is the spiritual impact of Giuseppe Verdi’s overwhelming talent. What sets this great composer apart? As his works have been showcased over many years by Sarasota Opera, and the high level of those productions is constantly reconfirmed on an international level, I ask your indulgence if I humbly attempt to answer my own question.
Maestro Verdi lived the life that he depicts in his operas, and his music paints the colors of his joys, sadness, his disappointments and his longings. Many of his greatest moments paint the interaction between fathers and children (great duets of Simon Boccanegra and his long-lost daughter Maria, of Miller and his daughter Luisa, Amonasro/Aïda, etc.), and between parent figures and their children (Germont and Violetta, Foscari, Giovanna d’Arco etc.).
A key to appreciation of these great moments may be the superior simplicity of melodic means, and harmonic efficiency that Verdi employs: When Violetta Valery agrees to relinquish the love of her life in order to provide happiness to an unknown girl who actually knows and enjoys the love of a father, we hear Verdi’s own yearning for the daughter that he could only wish to be able to embrace. Violetta’s joy, hope and fear strike us on a primal level, and it’s likely that Verdi invented this musical moment (“Dite alla giovine”) without having to engage his intellect; just by writing from the heart. Later in the same scene, Violetta asks Germont to embrace her as if she were his daughter. There is almost no harmony to the phrase, the vocal line is ultimately simple, and smiling, but the power of Verdi’s emotion is unbearable. The music leads us to wonder if he spent his life in guilt for the death of his two children, and composed partly in the hope of bringing them back to life.
Asked years ago to pick my single favorite measure of music in all the Verdi repertoire, I still vote for the same choice. Rigoletto, Act II (OK, it’s two measures), sung by Gilda: “Padre, in voi parla un angel consolator”. “Father, my consoling angel speaks through your voice”.
Wishing to Maestro Victor DeRenzi and all the staff of the Sarasota Opera many years of continued triumphs. And as for running out of Verdi operas, I say, “Heck, start again at the top!”
(Eugene Kohn began performing in public in the early 1970’s as recital accompanist to some of opera’s greatest stars: Renata Tebaldi, Giuseppe DiStefano, Franco Corelli, Maria Callas, and Luciano Pavarotti. He studied conducting with Fausto Cleva, and had the good fortune to work his symphonic repertoire both Erich Leinsdorf and Thomas Schippers. Following his MET debut in 1980, Kohn debuted at several major opera houses (Vienna, Hamburg, Berlin (both), Buenos Aires, Barcelona, Rome, Naples, etc), and has held permanent positions as Principal Guest Conductor at the Bonn Opera and Music Director of the Puerto Rico Symphony. Still enjoying a close musical association with Plácido Domingo, Kohn is kept busy conducting concerts as well for Andrea Bocelli and for Anna Netrebko. He has recorded for EMI, Decca, and Sony.)