Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 4.djvu/265

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page needs to be proofread.


VERDI.

politan circles that the cold reception of Alzira at San Carlo four years before was entirely due to his shaking hands with Verdi, and predicting a great triumph. To prevent the repetition of such a calamity, it was evident that M. Cape- celatro must not be allowed to see, speak, or write to Verdi under any pretence whatever before the first performance of Luisa Miller was over. Therefore a body of volunteers was levied amongst the composer's many friends, whose duty was to keep M. Capecelatro at a distance. Upon setting his foot on Neapolitan ground, Verdi found him- self surrounded by this legion of friends ; they never left him alone for a minute : they stood at the door of his hotel ; they accompanied him to the theatre and in the street ; and had more than once to contend fiercely against the persistent and unreasonable M. Capecelatro. All went smoothly with the rehearsals, and the first performance was wonderfully good. During the interval before the last act which, by the bye, is one of Verdi's most impressive and powerful creations a great excitement pervaded the house, and everyone was anxious to see the previous success crowned by a still warmer reception of the final terzetto. Verdi was standing on the stage in the centre of his guards, receiving congratulations from all, when suddenly a man rushes frantically forwards, and crying out ' At last ! ' throws his arms fondly round Verdi's neck. At the same moment a side- scene fell heavily on the stage, and had it not been for Verdi's presence of mind, throwing himself back with his admirer hanging on him, both would have been smashed. We need not say that the admirer was Capecelatro, and that the last act of Luisa Miller had, compared to the others, a very cold reception.

'Stifellio' (Nov. 16, 1850, Trieste) was a failure ; and even after being re-written and reproduced under the title of ' Aroldo ' (Aug. 16, 1857, Rimini), it did not become popular, though the score contains some remarkable passages, amongst others a great pezzo concertato and a duet for soprano and bass, which would be almost sufficient of themselves, now-a-days, to ensure the success of an Italian opera.

We are now going to deal with the period of the artist's career in which he wrote the master- pieces that have given him his world-wide fame 'Rigoletto,' 'Trovatore/ and 'La Traviata.' Wanting a new libretto for La Fenice, Verdi requested Piave to adapt the ' Le Roi s'amuse ' of Victor Hugo, and one was soon prepared, with the suggestive French title changed into 4 La Maledizione.' Widely open to criticism as is Victor Hugo's drama, the situations and plot are yet admirably fit for opera-goers who do not trouble themselves about the why and the where- fore, but are satisfied with what is presented to them, provided it rouses their interest. Verdi saw the advantages offered by the libretto, and forthwith sent it to Venice for approval. But after the political events of 1848-49 the police kept a keener eye than before on all perform- ances, and an opera in which a king is made to appear under such a light as Fran9ois I. in

��VERDI.

��249

��'Le Roi s'amuse,' was met by a flat refusal. The direction of La Fenice and the poet were driven almost mad by the answer; the season was drawing near, and they would probably have to do without the 'grand opera d'ob- bligo.' Other subjects were proposed to the composer, who, with his Olympian calm, always refused on principle, saying, ' Either La Male- dizione or none.' Days went on without any solution to the problem, when it was brought to an unexpected end in a quarter where help seemed least likely. The chief of the Austrian police, M. Martello, who, like Torresani, had as great a love for the interests of art as he had hatred to patriotic ideas came one morning into Piave's room, with a bundle of papers under his arm, and patting him on the shoulder, said 'Here is your business; I have found it, and we shall have the opera.' And then he began to show how all the necessary alterations could be made without any change in the dramatic situations. The king was changed into a duke of Mantua, the title into ' Rigoletto,' and all the curses were made to wreak their fury on the head of the insignificant duke of a petty town. Verdi accepted the alterations, and after receiving the complete libretto, went to Busseto and set furiously to work. And his inspiration served him so well that in forty days he was back at Venice with Rigoletto ready, and its production took place on March n, 1851. This was as great and genuine a success as was ever achieved by any operatic composer ; since no change, either of time or artistic taste, during more than thirty years, has been able to dim the beauty of this masterpiece.

Nearly two years passed before the appearance of ' II Trovatore,' which was performed at Rome at the Teatro Apollo on Jan. 19, 1853 ; and in little more than a month later ' La Traviata ' was brought out at the Fenice at Venice (March 6, 1853). The reception of the two works was very different : II Trovatore from the very first hearing was appreciated in full; La Traviata was a dead failure. ' Caro Emanuele,' wrote Verdi to his friend and pupil Muzio, ' Traviata last night made a fiasco. Is the fault mine or the actors' ? Time will show.' Time showed that the responsibility was to be laid entirely to the singers, though they were amongst the best of the day. The tenor, M. Graziani, took cold and sang his part throughout in a hoarse and almost inaudible voice. M. Varesi, the baryton, having what he would call a secondary r6le, took no trouble to bring out the dramatic importance of his short but capital part, so that the effect of the celebrated duet between Violetta and Ger- mond in the second act was entirely missed. Mme. Donatelli, who impersonated the delicate, sickly heroine, was one of the stoutest ladies on or off the stage, and when at the beginning of the third act the doctor declares that consumption has wasted away the young lady, and that she cannot live more than a few hours, the audience was thrown in a state of perfectly uproarious glee, a state very different from that necessary

�� �