The Latymer School History Magazine - page 7

A still from the Nabucco
Opera
Verdi refused to back down.
This was to change the
words ‘Ave Maria’ to ‘Salve
Maria’.
La battaglia di legnano
was
Verdi’s most openly
revolutionary opera and was
written during the aftermath
of the year of revolutions.
The opera premiered in
Rome in January 1849 which
made it particularly topical
as, with both Mazzini and
Garibaldi in authoritative
positions, the birth of the
Roman Republic was
imminent. This opera tells the
story of Italian cities of the Po
Valley uniting in 1176 to
defeat the German invader,
Frederich Barbossa. Through
the opera Verdi was clearly
preaching the need for a
unified Italy - act four was
called ‘To Die for the
Fatherland’. Verdi wanted to
show the most glorious of
Italian victories – that of the
Lombard League - and this
shows that he wanted to
inspire a hope in the
revolutionaries of Italy. At this
time Verdi was the composer
that Italians felt represented
their struggle the best; he
was at the height of his
popularity and influence.
However, did people really
make this connection
between Verdi and
revolution? Or has it been
imposed on his memory? A
strong argument against the
idea that Verdi was a
revolutionary is that perhaps
the audience never made
the connections that we
assume they did. Italians
were passionate for their
opera in the 1800s and any
strong opera gained their
support.
Nabucco
was the
first major success for Verdi
and there is the possibility
that people were purely
enthused by the idea of an
emerging talent. In the mid
1840s, any references to a
‘fatherland’ or wars were met
with a strong response and
this did not only happen in
Verdi’s operas. For example,
Donizetti’s opera
Gemma di
Vergy
of 1834
had been
written with
no nationalist
intention, yet
when
performed in
1847 in
Palmero,
there were
shouts of
‘Long live
Italy’ brought
on by the
revolutionary
atmosphere.
1848 was the
‘year of revolutions’ in Italy
and so it would be expected
that if Verdi’s operas had so
far inspired revolutions, they
would be performed and
new ones written. However,
the reality is that Verdi only
produced one unmemorable
opera in this year and his
operas were not widely
performed. In March 1848,
the Milanese briefly drove
the Austrians out of Milan
and what ensued was a
period of artistic freedom.
Yet Verdi does not seem to
feature in this period of
freedom; many patriotic
hymns were composed but
none by Verdi. It is
interesting to see that Verdi’s
operas were more widely
performed when the
Austrians returned to Milan.
In actual fact, only 5 of Verdi’s
26 operas have Italian
provenance. Perhaps Verdi
was not such a great
revolutionary that modern
day historians made him out
to be. Yet the fact that he was
thought of as a revolutionary
makes him somewhat
important. There must have
been a reaction at the time
for historians to believe that
he had some influence on
Italians and therefore we
must attribute some
importance to Verdi as a
revolutionary figure.
Verdi himself was a strong
patriot. He was, to some
extent, a patriot only when it
suited - rather than choose to
join the army, he felt he had
to return to France, where he
lived during much of the
fighting that lead to
unification, because he had
two operas to write, which
would have, undoubtedly,
generated much wealth for
Verdi. Verdi only returned to
Lombardy after the ‘Five
Days of Milan’ - a full scale
battle between Austrian
troops and Anti-Austrian
fighters - yet it is said that he
rushed there proclaiming it
was time for Italy to unite.
From Verdi’s
correspondences we can see
that he did, in fact, feel very
strongly about the idea of
Italian unification. Verdi
wrote to Piave, the librettist
of two of his operas, in 1848
to say he regretted missing
the fighting and that he
could no longer write music
as it would be a waste when
all that Italy needed was
revolution and victory. He
wrote ‘Honor to the heroes!
Honor to all of Italy, which in
this moment is truly great.
The hour has sounded, be
convinced, of its liberation’.
Interestingly, he seems to
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