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8.550241 - VERDI: Opera Choruses

Opera Choruses by Giuseppe Verdi (1813 -1901)

Giuseppe Verdi's career spans three quarters of the nineteenth century. He was born in 1813 at Roncole, near Busseto, the son of a tavern-keeper, and distinguished himself locally in music before the encouragement and patronage of his future father-in-law, Antonio Barezzi, a merchant in Busseto, allowed him further study in Milan, before returning to Busseto as maestro di musica. His first venture into opera was with Oberto, in 1839, reasonably successful, but followed by the failure of Un giorno di regno, written at a period when the composer suffered the death of his wife and two children. His early reputation was established by the opera Nabucco, staged at La Scala in Milan in 1842.

Verdi's subsequent career in Italy was to bring him unrivalled fame, augmented by his reputation as a patriot and fervent supporter of Italian national unity. His association with the singer Giuseppina Strepponi led to their marriage in 1859, the year of Un ballo in maschera. He completed his last opera, Falstaff, in 1893, four years before her death, but felt himself unequal to further Shakespearian operas that were then proposed. He died while staying in Milan, early in 1901, his death the subject of mourning throughout Italy.

The opera Nabucco (Nebuchadnezzar), dealing as it does with the Babylonian captivity, had obvious political implications in Italy in 1842. The chorus Va, pensiero, sull'ali dorate (Fly, my thoughts, on golden wings) is sung by the chorus of Hebrew slaves, toiling in exile and slavery by the waters of Babylon. The words O mia patria, si bella e perduta (O my country, so fair and yet lost) struck the necessary patriotic note for an age of incipient national consciousness.

Don Garlos, first staged in its French version in Paris in 1867 and at La Scala in Italian in 1884, is based on the drama by Schiller. The plot of the opera concerns the Spanish Infante, Don Garlos, and his love for Elisabeth de Valois, then betrothed to his father, for dynastic reasons. The conflict of love and duty is further complicated by the involvement of Don Carlos in Flemish agitation for freedom and by the unrequited love felt for him by the Princess Eboli. Final disaster is only averted by the intervention of the grandfather of Don Carlos, Charles V (Carlos Primero of Spain), who rises from the tomb to protect him from his father and the Grand Inquisitor, who seek his punishment by death. The chorus Spuntato ecco il dl d'esultanza (Welcome to the day of triumph) greets the king and his court in Act III of the opera.

La Traviata, first produced in Venice in 1853, is based on a very different source, the play La dame aux camélias by Alexandre Dumas fils. Violetta, a courtesan, sacrifices her love for her beloved Alfredo, at his father's request, although the young man does not know the cause of their estrangement, imagining her merely fickle. Final reconciliation only comes as Violetta lies dying, when all is explained. Masqueraders at the house of Violetta's friend Flora Bervoix, disguised as gypsies, announce their identity in Noi siamo zingarelle venute da lontano (We are gypsies from afar) and entertain the guests, in a scene that brings a confrontation between Alfredo and Violetta with her new protector Baron Douphol.

A second chorus from Nabucco, Gli arredi festivi giù candano infranti (The festive trappings now lie broken) accompanies the opening of the work, in which the chorus of Hebrew slaves has a major part to play in the dramatic conversion of the conquering Nebuchadnezzar.

The lyric tragedy La battaglia di Legnano (The Battle of Legnano), based on the French play La bataille de Toulouse, was first staged in Rome in 1849. The action is set in twelfth century Italy and records the defeat of the Emperor Barbarossa by the forces of the Lombard League. In the last act Lida's prayer begs and is rewarded by the success of the patriotic forces, led by her jealous husband Rolando, with the help of her former lover Arrigo, deprived of the honour of battle as a punishment for his suspected liaison with Lida.

The well known Anvil Chorus from the opera Il Trovatore (The Troubadour), first staged in Rome in 1853 and based on a Spanish drama, is sung by the gypsies who have stolen and adopted Manrico, the troubadour of the title, and brother to the wicked Count di Luna, Manrico's rival in love for Leonora. At their camp in the mountains the gypsies welcome the dawn, with Vedil Le fosche notturne spoglie (See, the darkness of night dissolves), before the old gypsy Azucena recalls the scene of her mother's death at the stake.

Ernani, drawn from the play by Victor Hugo, was produced for the first time in 1844 in Venice. Set in sixteenth century Spain, the plot deals with the predicament of Elvira, about to marry an elderly kinsman, but loved by the future Emperor Charles V and by the bandit Ernani, in reality Don Juan de Aragon. At the accession of the Emperor to the throne all seems about to end happily, with Elvira 's marriage to Ernani, when, as the result of a compact made with Elvira's former intended husband Silva, he is obliged to kill himself. The chorus Si rideste il Leon di Castiglia (Let the Lion of Castile arise) comes at the height of the third act, in which conspirators, including Silva and Ernani, plan to assassinate the future Emperor, who overhears from his hiding-place their plans.

Verdi's penultimate opera, Otello, first staged in Milan in 1887, was his second attempt to transfer Shakespeare to the Italian operatic stage. The chorus Fuoco di gioia (Fire of joy) comes in the first act of the opera, when Otello's ship has safely weathered the storm to reach Cyprus. The crowd gathers round a fire that has been kindled. It is only later that the wicked lago provokes Otello's jealousy that leads to the tragic climax and the death of his young wife Desdemona.

Giuramento, the oath chorus from the third act of La battaglia di Legnano, marks the oath of the conspirators of the Lombard League to free Italy from foreign tyranny, while the exiles' chorus from Macbeth, the first of the Shakespearean operas. Patria oppressa (Oppressed country) opens the fourth act. Here those who have been forced to seek refuge in England from Macbeth's oppression lament the fate of their country, soon to be freed by the murdered king's son, Malcolm. The opera was first performed in Florence in 1847.

The soldiers' chorus Or co' dadi, ma fra poco (Now we gamble and gossip) opens the third act of Il Trovatore, where the forces of the Count di Luna prepare for battle against his rival Manrico. Rataplan, rataplan, from La forza dei destino (The Force of Destiny), closes the third act of the opera, first mounted in St. Petersburg in 1862. A plot of some complexity, based on a play by the Duke of Rivas, is a story of love and revenge. Don Alvaro, lover of Leonora, accidentally kills her father, and is the object, thereafter, of vengeance from Leonora's brother, Don Carlo. They do not recognise each other, and swear eternal friendship in a later act. The chorus Rataplan, initiated by the gypsy girl Preziosilla, calms a quarrel between Spanish and Italian soldiers, caused by the ill-timed sermon of a friar.

The second scene of the second act of the opera Aida, written for the new Cairo opera-house in 1871, opens with a triumphal chorus, marking the return of Radames, victorious over Aida's father, the Ethiopian king Amonasro. The tragedy that follows is a result of the rivalry in love of the Egyptian princess Amneris and her captive Aida for Radames, who unwittingly betrays his country through the agency of his beloved Aida, with whom he eventually dies, immured in a tomb where she has hidden herself.

Slovak Philharmonic Choir
The Slovak Philharmonic Choir has its origin in the Slovak Radio Choir started by Ladislav Slovak in 1946. Since then it has developed into a large professional independent concert ensemble with a considerable reputation both at home and abroad. The repertoire of the choir ranges from the Baroque to the contemporary and it has performed with a number of the most distinguished orchestras and conductors in opera, oratorio and other works. The choir has made frequent guest appearances at major festivals in Austria, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Italy and elsewhere.

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