The Latymer School History Magazine - page 6

Italians writing Viva
Verdi on the wall
Opera was an occasion for
all classes, somewhere where
the rich and poor of the
country mixed. Many of the
lower classes were illiterate
and the opera was
somewhere that propaganda
could reach them. Opera was
a hub for political
conversation and as David
Gilmour, author of
Pursuit of Italy,
says, ‘Italians
used theatres as Englishmen
used clubs’. There was
constant talking and people
were actively involved in the
drama as it unfolded. After
1815, the church imposed
heavy censorship in some
parts of Italy yet it was harder
to censor opera, making it
easier for nationalist views to
be put across. Verdi changed
opera in Italy from the ‘Bel
Canto’ style of Rossini, Bellini
and Donizetti to a much
harsher sound where the
focus was not on beautiful
singing but on the drama,
which made the story and
the characters more
prominent. Many of Verdi’s
operas were thought of as
revolutionary purely because
of the story they told and the
associations that people
made with the characters,
such as comparing the
Hebrews in
to the
Italians of the 1800s, and the
change in operatic style
meant Verdi could really
develop these characters.
So why do we consider Verdi
as a revolutionary? Verdi
wrote three operas that are
considered his ‘Risorgimento
Operas’. The first of these
premiered in 1842.
tells the Biblical story of Jews
in exile in Babylon. Verdi’s
operas were all about the
chorus, not one lead singer
and this is most clearly
shown in the chorus
where the Jews
long for freedom. This is
claimed to be the anthem for
Italian Unification, since
many believe that the plight
of the Jews was instantly
compared to the Northern
Italians under the rule of the
Austrian Empire. It is
undeniable that
was a success for Verdi – it
broke all box office records
and in 1842 it was
performed 75 times at La
Scala. It is said that people
demanded encores,
sometimes even of the whole
opera. Verdi’s second
revolutionary opera was
Lombardi alla prima crociata
He dedicated this opera to
Maria Luisa of Austria which,
although seemingly odd, was
probably done to avoid
suspicion. It seems that
inspired even
greater nationalist feeling in
the people of Italy due to the
hearty tunes and the
glorification of Lombardy’s
past military fame, although
this feeling may have been
confined to Milan, where it
premiered in 1843, as Milan
was in Lombardy. The
portrayal of Italy as victorious
may have been what most
inspired the Italians. This was
the first opera that got Verdi
into some difficulties with the
church and state. The
Archbishop of Milan
discovered that there was to
be a re-enactment of a
baptism on stage and some
of the opera was to be set in
Jerusalem and because of
this he alerted the police.
However, only one change
was made to the opera as
Did you know?
Verdi and his
Richard Wagner
had a bitter
rivalry, even
though they
never met. Verdi
said that Wagner
the untrodden
path, attempting
to fly where a
rational person
would walk with
better results.'
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