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The Life and Operas of Verdi

Discover Verdi’s life and music, and trace his artistic development from a conventional composer to a master of dramatic innovation.
Life and Operas of Verdi is rated 4.4 out of 5 by 73.
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Rated 1 out of 5 by from His acting makes it terrible! The acting doesn't render a good service to Verdi or to opera in general. The excerpts should have been video and should have given us the details of the performance. A disaster. Impossible to complete it!
Date published: 2022-02-05
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Impossible I’m not the first to say it but his voice acting should be illegal.
Date published: 2021-03-23
Rated 3 out of 5 by from over-acting I have listened to some other talks by the speaker, and they were fine, so I was looking forward to this one. Unfortunately it is a bit of a disaster. He seems to think he is talking to a kindergarten class, especially when he is acting the parts in an opera. His over-acting is just terrible, it is embarrassing to listen to. I suspect most followers of the great courses are seeking information, history, and understanding, they are not seeking to be entertained by some hopeless ham acting. I have tried four times, but have been unable to get through the description of even the first opera. The ``performance'' is just too off putting.
Date published: 2020-05-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Life and Operas Of Verdi This was an exceptional course, the teacher was full of knowledge and enthusiasm and I was so impressed I ordered the Mozart opera series by the same Professor!
Date published: 2020-02-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great musical portions This turned out to be one of best courses I have purchased from The Great Courses. Professor Greenfield was great and his enthusiasm helped make the lectures such as I could barely wait until I would have time to listen to the next. Because of this I later purchased his course on The Sympathy
Date published: 2019-10-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fantastic The detailed and insightful elements shared in the course are put in a superb light by the passionate and energetic style of the lecturer. I loved it!
Date published: 2018-10-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Informative and entertaining I listened with great interest and learned many things I did not know. I was also induced to listen to and watch the recordings I own with new appreciation.
Date published: 2018-09-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An excellent course Possibly the best course I have listened to. Great material and an excellent presentation.
Date published: 2018-06-09
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Overview

Discover the answers in The Life and Operas of Verdi

About

Robert Greenberg

For thousands of years cultures have celebrated themselves through their music. Let us always be willing and able to join that celebration by listening as carefully as we can to what, through music, we have to say to one another.

INSTITUTION

San Francisco Performances

Dr. Robert Greenberg is Music Historian-in-Residence with San Francisco Performances. A graduate of Princeton University, Professor Greenberg holds a Ph.D. in Music Composition from the University of California, Berkeley. He has seen his compositions-which include more than 45 works for a wide variety of instrumental and vocal ensembles-performed all over the world, including New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles, England, Ireland, Greece, Italy, and the Netherlands.

He has served on the faculties of the University of California, Berkeley; California State University, Hayward; and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and has lectured for some of the most prestigious musical and arts organizations in the United States, including the San Francisco Symphony, the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, the Van Cliburn Foundation, and the Chicago Symphony. For The Great Courses, he has recorded more than 500 lectures on a range of composers and classical music genres.

Professor Greenberg is a Steinway Artist. His many other honors include three Nicola de Lorenzo Composition Prizes and a Koussevitzky commission from the Library of Congress. He has been profiled in various major publications, including The Wall Street Journal; Inc. magazine; and the London Times.

You can find more music content from Robert Greenberg on Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/RobertGreenbergMusic.

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01: "La bell'Italia"

Verdi, like opera itself 200 years before him, was Italian-born. He came into a candlelit world, and died during the era of electricity. Despite all the changes he saw and made, his works never abandoned opera's roots as a popular entertainment or its devotion to "sprezzatura," "the art of effortless mastery."

47 min
Beginnings

02: Beginnings

Verdi was a gifted student; wealthy citizens in his home region near Parma sent him to the Milan Conservatory. But the 18-year-old Verdi was deemed too old for admission, and so had to find another way to start his musical career.

44 min

03: "Oberto"

Embroiled in a bitter factional feud in his adopted hometown and stricken by the tragic loss of his two young children, Verdi nonetheless successfully transplanted himself to Milan and scored a modest success in November 1839 with the premiere of his first opera at La Scala.

45 min

04: "Nabucco"

His first wife's death and his second opera's disastrous premiere almost killed Verdi's young career. Yet a year later, in 1842, he bounced back both commercially and artistically with "Nabucco," a biblical tale of liberation and unity that stirred Italians deeply.

45 min

05: "Nabucco," Conclusion and Risorgimento

Verdi cannot be understood apart from the Italian "Risorgimento" nor can it be understood apart from him, for his music was its soul and voice. The third-act duet between King Nabucco and his daughter Abigaille is a window on this remarkable cross-influence between an artist and a nation being born.

46 min

06: "I Lombardi"

The premiere of "Nabucco" would prove a turning point in Verdi's personal as well as professional life, for it was then that he met the singer and actress Giuseppina Strepponi, his future wife. La Scala gave him a contract whose first fruit was "I Lombardi alla prima crociata (The Lombards at the First Crusade)."

45 min

07: "I Lombardi," Conclusion and "Ernani"

With the 1842 premiere of "I Lombardi,", Verdi began a decade of fiercely hard work, showing himself a master of the business side of the opera game. " Lombardi, Ernani," and other operas of this period such as "I due foscari" would drive Italian audiences wild and the Austrian censors up the wall.

45 min

08: "Macbeth"

In 1846, Verdi expanded his range still further with "Macbeth," reaching for extreme Romantic effects that were a departure from the norms of Italian opera. Music and voices, he had decided, must above all express the truth of the characters and their inner worlds.

46 min

09: "I masnadieri"

In 1847, Verdi spent time in London, supervising a production of "I masnadieri (The Robbers)." In 1848, after revolutions broke out against regimes across Europe, an elated Verdi returned to Milan, newly liberated from the Austrians, only to see his hopes for an "Austria-free" Italy dashed.

45 min

10: "Luisa Miller" and "Rigoletto"

"Luisa Miller" is a tale of ordinary people crushed by absolutist government, and another step on Verdi's journey away from the "bel canto" tradition. "Rigoletto," with its libretto by Francesco Piave, comes from a play by Victor Hugo.

45 min

11: "Rigoletto," Act I continued

The first act in this lurid tale of wickedness, innocence, and a terrible curse blends music and drama in a way wholly new to Italian opera. In Rigoletto, the hunchbacked jester of the Duke of Mantua, Verdi and Piave have given us one of the great characters of the opera stage.

46 min

12: "Rigoletto," Acts I, II and III

The Duke's aria "La donna e mobile" ("Woman is fickle") is one of the most famous in all opera. It speaks volumes about the shallow, Don-Juanish Duke, and is so tuneful that Verdi, while writing it, took elaborate steps to keep it secret lest its impact at the premiere be lessened.

45 min

13: "Rigoletto,", Act III continued

"Rigoletto" includes some of the most stunning ensemble and orchestral writing since Mozart. The atmospherics (literally!) are extraordinary too, as Verdi uses the orchestra and a wordless chorus to suggest a coming storm as a metaphor for doom.

46 min

14: "Rigoletto," Conclusion and "Il trovatore"

How could Verdi top Rigoletto, one of the most memorable characters in all opera? In 1852, less than two years after "Rigoletto's premiere, Verdi wrote not one but two more immortal operas, each musically brilliant, dramatically innovative, and beloved to this day.

45 min

15: "Il trovatore,", Conclusion and "La traviata"

While the public swooned with joy over "Il trovatore's" January 1853 premiere, some of Verdi's critics complained that its "vulgarity" had put an end to "bel canto" opera. Oddly enough, they were quite close to the mark.

45 min

16: "Un ballo in maschera"

Verdi created this opera with remarkable speed, but then had to fight a titanic public battle with the censors in Naples and settle a number of lawsuits before it could be staged to his liking in Rome.

44 min

17: "Un ballo in maschera," Conclusion

In Act III, Verdi shamelessly pulls out every melodramatic stop but somehow makes it all work: a sure sign of his genius. By now middle-aged, he also tried to retire from both politics and opera, but happily would succeed only in quitting the former.

45 min

18: "La forza del destino"

Written for the court of the Russian czar and premiered at St. Petersburg in 1862, this tale of star-crossed young lovers featured a "destiny" theme that stands as a musical landmark in Verdi's score.

45 min

19: "Don Carlo"

Verdi spent nearly a year composing "Don Carlo," based on a drama by Friedrich von Schiller, for the Paris Opéra. The work caused some critics to make wrong, maddening, and yet not entirely unreasonable comparisons between Verdi and Wagner.

46 min

20: "Don Carlo," Conclusion

Verdi hated autocracy, yet Act IV of "Don Carlo" pulls back the curtain of power to show the arch-autocrat Philip II of Spain in his humanity as a lonely man afraid of aging and betrayal. Princess Eboli's aria "O don fatal" in this act contains one of the greatest passages ever written for mezzo-soprano.

46 min

21: "Aida"

Set in ancient Egypt and commissioned by the Ottoman governor of that country to mark the completion of the Suez Canal, "Aida" is famous for spectacle, though its core is a tale of private love and loss. The opera's "first premiere," which Verdi himself did not conduct, was in Cairo.

47 min

22: "Aida," Conclusion

Taking "Aida's" 1872 Milan premiere to be his most important ever, Verdi forced changes on La Scala that are now the rule for opera houses everywhere. It was all to good effect, for "Aida" is the benchmark operatic spectacle and remains Verdi's most popular work.

46 min
The Requiem

23: The Requiem

The 1873 death of the great author Alessandro Manzoni (the virtual inventor of modern standard Italian) spurred Verdi to score a Requiem Mass in Manzoni's honor. The result is a work that is unique in this often-tried genre.

46 min
The Requiem, Conclusion

24: The Requiem, Conclusion

Verdi's seven-movement "Requiem" expresses an awesome range of emotions. We focus on its huge, 38-minute "Dies irae (Day of Wrath)" section and its closing "Libera me." Along with Beethoven's "Missa solemnis" (1822) and Brahms's "German Requiem" (1869), Verdi's "equiem" is the greatest work of religious music written between 1800 and 1900.

46 min

25: "Otello"

This was the product of a conspiracy to get Verdi (by now the most famous living Italian) to compose again. The key was librettist Arrigo Boito, whose partnership with Verdi would become one of the finest in musical history.

45 min

26: "Otello," Conclusion; "Falstaff"

"Otello" was an event of national importance when it premiered in 1887, and many thought it was Verdi's swan song. Desdemona's "Willow Song" scene makes a window onto this masterwork on the tragic side of the Shakespearean range.

45 min

27: "Falstaff," Act I, Sc. 1

Verdi had total control over "Falstaff" and crafted the whole production with great care and gusto. This was not only the summation of his life's work (and only his second comic opera), but broke new ground both dramatically and musically.

45 min

28: "Falstaff," Act I, Sc. 1, Conclusion; Sc. 2

Verdi knew how crucial timing is to comedy, so he avoided arias in favor of a profusion of fluid melodic lines that overlap, spin off, and turn into something else entirely. The overall effect is remarkable.

45 min

29: "Falstaff," Act I, Sc. 2, Conclusion; Act II, Sc. 1

The second scene of Act I features an amazing group-sing that combines men's and women's ensembles, each singing in a different meter. Act II begins with an explosive orchestral passage from which Verdi develops most of the scene's melodic material.

47 min

30: "Falstaff," Act II, Sc. 1, Conclusion; Sc. 2

Verdi's "inner eye" for action on stage is almost as extraordinary as his inner ear for music. There is comic genius in the way he and Boito bring to life the antics of Falstaff, Ford, and the quick-witted "Merry Wives of Windsor."

45 min

31: "Falstaff," Act II, Sc. 2 continued

Verdi's score matches the characters and their actions brilliantly: Falstaff's ostensibly seductive "love song" sounds comically dated, while later, fast-moving, overlapping vocal lines accompany complex slapstick action.

46 min

32: "Falstaff," Act II, Conclusion; Act III

In 1900, a friend asked the 87-year-old Verdi which of his creations was his favorite. Verdi's response was extraordinary, and it tells us much about the man and where his priorities lay near the end of his life.

47 min

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