Why I Love Verdi
Then Came Verdi . . .
I have loved classical music for as long as I can remember. My childhood was filled with the wonderful recordings my mother played at home, and I was taken to a number of concerts. At age 7, I began taking piano lessons, and I developed a rather precocious veneration for the great German masters: the soundtrack of my childhood consisted largely of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven …
But, boy oh boy, did I dislike opera! I didn’t appreciate the sound of the classically trained human voice, and I was annoyed by the notion that a story could be told and staged with music and song, rather than simply spoken.
Then came Verdi. One day, I must have been fourteen, I tuned to a classical radio station in Italy and I heard Aida. The next day I asked my parents for some extra pocket money and I rushed to purchase an LP (the 1955 recording with Maria Callas and Richard Tucker). Within hours I knew the whole thing by heart. Not only did Aida teach me to love opera; through Aida I also learned a great deal about what opera is, how it you can feel it and believe in it despite (or, better, because of) the seemingly implausible presence of music. I discovered how musical ideas can be associated with characters or emotions, how thematic recalls can tell us not only what this or that character is saying, but also what they are feeling in their innermost selves, what’s about to happen, and much more. I began to perceive how a chorus is not a monolithic “corporate character” of sorts, but can represent a multitude of groups (the Egyptians, the Ethiopians, the priests…). I realized how a distant land (such as Egypt) can be imagined and evoked musically.
I could go on and on. Starting that season, I began to attend every performance for which I could obtain tickets, first at the Rome Opera, then elsewhere. I discovered the great tradition of Italian opera in which Verdi was formed (Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti), and little by little I came to know well most of Verdi’s own operas. It didn’t take long to realize that Verdi was going to be not only a passion, but also a fundamental part of my professional life. I wish I could do everything; sing, conduct, stage! But I feel privileged to be able to write about Verdi, and to draw bridges between scholars and performers—for example preparing critical editions like the one of Verdi’s Un giorno di regno that was performed for the first time at Sarasota Opera. Seeing Verdi’s autograph manuscripts is an incomparable emotion, and to be able to bring his accurate, meticulous marking to bear on a modern performance is unbelievably exciting! That is my ultimate mission as a musicologist; do all I can to make sure that opera is known, understood, and most important, loved as much as I love it. To end on a trivial note (one that Verdi, probably, would not disapprove of): the thought that something so marvelous actually earns me a living is just mind-boggling!
(Dr. Francesco Izzo is a Senior Lecturer in Music at the University of Southampton, and co-director of the American Institute for Verdi Studies at New York University.)