Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 4.djvu/263

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VERDI.

write it out. This was not exactly what I wanted; because I knew that days and weeks would pass before Solera would bring himself to write a single line. I therefore locked the door, put the key in my pocket, and half in jest and half in earnest said to him : I will not let you out before you have finished the prophecy: here is a Bible, and so more than half of your work is done. Solera, being of a quick temper, did not quite see the joke, he got angrily upon his legs and . . . Well, just for a moment or two I wished myself somewhere else, as the poet was a powerful man, and might have got the better of me ; but happily he changed his mind, sat down, and in ten minutes the prophecy was written.

'At the end of February 1842 we had the first rehearsal, and twelve days later, on March 9, the first performance. The principal interpreters were Mmes. Strepponi and Bollinzaghi, and Messrs. Ronconi, Miraglia and Derivis.

'With this opera my career as a composer may rightly be said to have begun ; and though it is true that I had to fight against a great many difficulties, it is no less true that Na- bucco was born under a very good star: for even the things which might reasonably have been expected to damage its success, turned out to have increased it. Thus, I wrote a nasty letter to Merelli; and it was more than probable that Merelli would send the young maestro and his opera to the devil. Nothing of the kind. Then the costumes, though made in a hurry, were splendid. Old scenes, touched up by M. Peroni, had a magical effect: the first one especially the Temple elicited an applause that lasted nearly ten minutes. At the very last rehearsal nobody knew how and when the military band was to appear on the stage ; its conductor, Herr Tusch, was entirely at a loss ; but I pointed out to him a bar, and at the first performance the band appeared just at the climax of the crescendo, provoking a perfect thunder of applause.

' But it is not always safe to trust to the in- fluence of good stars: it is a truth which I discovered by myself in after years, that to have confidence is a good thing, but to have none is better still.'

So far the maestro's own narrative.

Eleven months later (Feb. II, 1843), Verdi achieved a still more indisputable success with ' I Lombardi alia prima Crociata,' interpreted by Mme. Frezzolini-Poggi, and MM. Guasco, Severi, and Derivis. Solera had taken the plot from the poem of Tommaso Grossi, the author of 'Marco Visconti.' This opera gave Verdi his first experience in the difficulty of finding libretti unobjectionable to the Italian governments. Though five years had still to elapse before the breaking out of the Milan revolt, yet something was brewing throughout Italy, and no occasion was missed by the patriots in giving vent to their feelings. As soon as the Archbishop of Milan got wind of the subject of the new opera, he sent a letter to the chief of the police, M. Torresani,

��VERDI.

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��saying that he knew the libretto to be a profane and irreverent one, and that if Torresani did not veto the performance, he himself would write straight to the Austrian Emperor.

Merelli, Solera, and Verdi were forthwith summoned to appear before Torresani and hear from him what alterations should be made in the opera. Verdi, in his usual blunt manner, took no notice of the peremptory summons. ' I am satisfied with the opera as it is,' said he, 'and will not change a word or a note of it. It shall be given as it is, or not given at all I* Thereupon Merelli and Solera went to see Tor- resani who, to his honour be it said, besides being the most inflexible agent of the government, was an enthusiastic admirer of art and artists and so impressed him with the responsibility he would assume by preventing the performance of a masterpiece of all masterpieces, like the 'Lombardi,' that at the end Torresani got up and said, 'I am not the man to prevent genius from getting on in this world. Go on ; I take the whole thing upon myself; only put Salve Maria instead of Ave Maria, just to show the Archbishop that we are inclined to please him ; and as for the rest, it is all right.' The opera had an enthusiastic reception, and the chorus,

O Signore, dal tetto natio,

had to be repeated three times. The Milanese, the pioneers of the Italian revolution, always on the look-out, knew very well that the Austrian Governor could not miss the meaning of the ap- plause to that suggestively-worded chorus.

Of Verdi's first three operas 'I Lombardi' has stood its ground the best. In Italy it is still very often played, and as late as 1879 ^ a< i the honour of twenty-six performances in one season at Brussels. On Nov. 26, 1847, it was performed with considerable alterations in the music, and a libretto adapted by Vaez and Roger, but with little success, under the title of 'Jerusalem,' at the French Ope"ra. The ex- periment of retranslating the work into Italian was not a happy one, and 'Gerusalemme' in Italy was little better welcomed than 'Jerusalem' had been in Paris.

Verdi's works were soon eagerly sought after by all the impresarios, and the composer gave the preference to Venice, and wrote 'Ernani' (March 9, 1844) for the Fenice theatre there. The success was enormous, and during the fol- lowing nine months it was produced on fifteen different stages. The libretto, borrowed from Victor Hugo's ' Hernani,' was the work of F. M. Piave, of Venice, of whom we shall have occasion to speak again. The police interfered before the performance, and absolutely would not allow a conspiracy on the stage. This time many ex- pressions in the poem, and many notes in the music had to be changed ; and besides the annoy- ances of the police, Verdi had some trouble with a Count Mocenigo, whose aristocrat! cal suscep- tibility treated the blowing of the horn by Sylva in the last act as a disgrace to the theatre. In the end, after much grumbling, the horn was allowed admittance. The chorus ' Si ridesti il

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