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8.550091 - VERDI: Overtures / Preludes / Ballet Music

Giuseppe Verdi (1813 - 1901) Prelude to Aida

Ballet Music from Aida
Triumphal March from Aida
Prelude to Act I of La Traviata
Prelude to Act III of La Traviata
Overture to La forza del destino
Overture to I Vespri Siciliani
I Vespri Siciliani: The Four Seasons (Ballet Music)
Prelude to Rigoletto

Giuseppe Verdi is a figure of the greatest importance in the development of Italian opera, his own career coinciding with the rise of Italian nationalism and the consciousness of national unity. He was of humble family and owed his early musical training to the generosity of a rich music-lover, Antonio Barezzi, who arranged to pay for his training at the Conservatory in Milan, an institution that he failed to enter, embarking instead, with Barezzi's support, on private lessons in Milan with Vincenzo Lavigna, an opera composer and former maestro al cembalo at La Scala.

In 1836 Verdi was appointed municipal music director of Busseto, the nearest town to his native village of Le Roncole. He married in the same year the daughter of Antonio Barezzi and set about completing his first opera, Rocester. Three years later the couple settled in Milan, where Verdi was able to devote himself to the composition of opera, an early period of his career that brought success and failure, as well as tragedy in the death of his two children, followed, in 1840, by the death of his wife.

Verdi's first operas, Oberto in 1839 and Un giorno di regno in 1840, were followed by the signal success of Nabucco at La Scala in 1842. Oberto, Conte di San Bonifacio, presumably based on the earlier Rocester, had been given fourteen performances, reasonable encouragement for a young composer, but Un giorno di regno was a disaster. The years immediately following Nabucco brought the successful I Lombardi and Ernani, both of them with an overt patriotic relevance.

With these operas Verdi had established himself, and during the course of a long career he was to write more than score more stage works, culminating, In 1893, with Falstaff, a final return to Shakespeare, whose Macbeth he had transformed in 1847, followed forty years later by Otello. Recurrent plans for King Learwere never to be realised, nor Verdi's declared ambition to turn into opera the other major works of Shakespeare.

Verdi's contemporary popularity was primarily due to his great musical gifts. Nevertheless his association with the Ideals of nationalism made him something of a hero to the idealists of the Risorgimento, his very name taken as an acrostic for Vittorio Emanuele, Re d'ltalia, a fortunate coincidence. From 1861 to 1865 he was a member of the new Italian parliament, at the request of Count Cavour, but spent his later life at Busseto, marrying in 1859 the singer Giuseppina Strepponi, who had befriended him at the time of his first opera, Oberto, and with whom he had already been living for twelve years.

The opera Rigoletto was first staged at La Fenice in Venice in March, 1851. The libretto, by Francesco Maria Piave, was based on Victor Hugo's Le roi s'amuse, and in the final form eventually permitted by the censors, concerned the profligate Duke of Mantua and the attempt of his jester, the hunch-back Rigoletto, to protect his daughter Gilda from the Duke's attentions and finally to take revenge on his master, a plot that leads, instead, to the death of Gilds. The original title of the opera, La maledizione, refers to the curse uttered by the father of a girl who has lost her honour to the Duke, a curse that falls effectively on Rigoletto, who had behaved as cynically and cruelly as his master.

La Traviata was staged at La Fenice two years later. The libretto was again by Piave, based on the play La dame aux camélias by Alexandre Dumas, fils. The courtesan Violetta finds herself really in love with the young Alfredo Germont and the couple set up house together. Alfredo's father begs Violetta to give up his son and she agrees, later declaring herself truly in love with another, provoking her lover's open contempt. As Violetta lies dying of consumption, an illness that has been apparent from the earlier scenes, Alfredo, now aware of the part his father has played in their separation, comes to ask her forgiveness and she dies in his arms.

The Prelude to Act I of La Traviata starts with a theme of tender sadness that we are to hear again in the introduction to the last act. This is followed by the theme of Violett'a plea for Aifredo's love, contrasted with violin music of a lighter texture, representing the more frivolous side of her character. The Prelude to Act III heralds the sad resignation of Violetta to her inevitable death.

I vespri siciliani was commissioned for the Great Exhibition in Paris in 1835, with a libretto by the French writers Eugene Scribe and Duveyrier, adapted from a text prepared for Donizetti in 1839 dealing with another historical event of an apparently similar kind. The story of the opera concerns the massacre of French troops by Sicilian patriots in fourteenth century Palermo, an incident for which the signal had been the Vespers bell, rung to mark the wedding of the patriotic Duchess Elena, sister of Frederick of Austria, to Arrigo, son of Guy de Montfort, French governor of Sicily. The Overture sets the scene, with the ominous drum-beat of its slow introduction, followed by a lyrical theme from a later duet for tenor and baritone, Arrigo and his father. Other themes used are those that accompany the massacre and part of the music of Act IV, where Elena is in prison with the leader of the Sicilan conspiracy. The ballet music, obligatory in Paris, is often omitted from performances of the opera, a practice authorized by the composer. It forms part of the wedding celebrations of the fifth act and consists of music for the four seasons, separated by a brief mime. Summer brings a siciliano and Autumn an adagio in music for a ballet that has an independent existence in modern choreographic repertoire.

La forza del destino, first performed in St. Petersburg in November, 1862, uses a libretto by Piave adapted from a play by the Spanish playwright Angel de Saavedra, Duke of Rivas, under the title Don Alvaro o La fuerza del sino. Don Alvaro, eloping with Leonora, accidentally kills her father. Her brother, Don Carlo, swears revenge, and Leonora takes refuge in a mountain cave, protected by the monks with whom she has sought sanctuary. Meanwhile Don Alvaro, disguised, fights against the Germans and saves the life of a man he does not recognise, Don Carlo, with whom he swears eternal friendship. Realising his true identity, Don Carlo forces a duel, in which he is wounded, while Alvaro seeks refuge in a monastery. Five years later Alvaro has become a monk, but Don Carlo again seeks revenge and is mortally wounded by his adversary, who refused him absolution. A holy hermit is summoned, who turns out to be Leonora. Don Carlo stabs her and as she dies she begs Don Alvaro to resume his religious life.

The Overture to La forza del destino was revised for performances of the opera in 1869. It makes use of the principal Fate theme, the first melody to be heard after the repeated opening notes to call the attention of the audience. The Overture continues with a whole series of important melodies from the opera, the theme of Fate underlying the more lyrical elements.

Aida had its first performance at the opera house in Cairo in December, 1871. The libretto, by Antonio Ghislanzoni, was derived from a French prose version, by Camille du Locle, of a scenario by the French egyptologist known as Marlette Bey, August Mariette. Aida, an Ethopian slave-girl, servant to the Egyptian King's daughter, Amneris, loves Radames, captain of the Egyptian guard. Radames In tum loves Aida, but in war captures Aida's father, King Amonasro, and is rewarded for his part in the victory by the hand of Amneris in marriage. The Princess overhears Radames inadvertently betraying a military secret to Aids, who escapes with her father, while Radames gives himself up to the high priest Ramfis and is condemned to die Immured in a tomb, unless he will give up Aids. He refuses, only to find that Aida has hidden herself in the tomb, to die with him, while Amneris, above, prays to the gods for mercy on him.

The Prelude to Act I of Aids uses the melody associated with the heroine and that of the chant of the Egyptian priests, an epitome of the conflict between love and duty. Ballet music is provided for a Dance of Priestesses at the end of Act I, where Radames is invested with his sword of office as commander of the Egyptian armies and for a Dance of Little Black Slaves who entertain Amneris as she prepares to welcome the army returning in victory. The Triumphal March marks the return of the army in the second scene of Act II, bringing in its train captives and spoils of war.

Czechoslovak Radio Symphony Orchestra (Bratislava)
The Czechoslovak Radio Symphony Orchestra (Bratislava), the oldest symphonic ensemble in Slovakia, was founded in 1929 at the instance of Milos Ruppeidt and Oskar Nedbal, prominent personalities in the sphere of music. Ondrej Lenard was appointed its conductor in 1970 and in 1977 its conductor-in-chief. The orchestra has given successful concerts both at home and abroad, in West and East Germany, Russia, Bulgaria, Denmark, France, Spain, Italy, and Great Britain.

Ondrej Lenard
Ondrej Lenard was born in 1942 and had his early training in Bratislava, where, at the age of 17, he entered the Academy of Music and Drama, to study under Ludovit Rajter. His graduation concert in 1964 was given with the Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra and during his two years of military service he conducted the Army Orchestral Ensemble, later renewing an earlier connection with the Slovak National Opera, where he has continued to direct performances.

Lenard's work with the Czech Radio Symphony Orchestra in Bratislava began in 1970 and in 1977 he was appointed Principal Conductor. At the same time he has travelled widely abroad in Europe, the Americas, the Soviet Union and elsewhere as a guest conductor, and during his two years, from 1984 to 1986, as General Music Director of the Slovak National Opera recorded for OPUS operas by Puccini, Gounod, Suchon and Bellini.

For Naxos Lenard has recorded symphonies by Tchaikovsky and works by Glazunov, Johann Strauss II, Verdi and Rimsky-Korsakov.

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