Showing posts with label 1851. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 1851. Show all posts

11 March 2017

Rigoletto debuts at La Fenice

Verdi opera staged after battle with censors

Giuseppe Verdi - a photograph taken in 1850
Giuseppe Verdi - a photograph
taken in 1850
Giuseppe Verdi's opera Rigoletto was performed for the first time on this day in 1851 in Venice.

It enjoyed a triumphant first night at La Fenice opera house, where the reaction of the audience was particularly gratifying for the composer and his librettist, Francesco Maria Piave, after a long-running battle to satisfy the censors.

Northern Italy was controlled by the Austrian Empire at the time and a strict censorship process applied to all public performances.

Verdi, who had accepted a commission to write an opera for La Fenice the previous year, knew he was likely to risk falling foul of the Austrians when he chose to base his work on Victor Hugo's play, Le roi s'amuse, which provoked such a scandal when it premiered in Paris in 1832 that it was cancelled after one night and had remained banned across France ever since.

Hugo's play depicted a king - namely Francis I of France - as a licentious womaniser who paid only lip service to what was considered moral behaviour as he constantly sought new conquests.

The French government had been horrified by the play's disrespectful portrayal of a monarch and the Austrians, wary of anything that might corrupt the morals of the people or, worse still, provoke a revolt against the ruling classes, were never likely to take a more lenient view.

Rigoletto was the seventh of 10 Verdi operas for  which Francesco Maria Piave wrote the libretto
Rigoletto was the seventh of 10 Verdi operas for
 which Francesco Maria Piave wrote the libretto 
It meant that Verdi and Piave had to go to enormous lengths to see that their version met with official approval, having been warned from the start that such a scandalous story would never be permitted.

The first version they submitted for review, entitled La maledizione (The Curse) was knocked back immediately, the Austrian censor describing it as 'a repugnant example of immorality and obscene triviality'.

They moved the plot from France to Italy and made the main character a duke rather than a king.  The new title, Rigoletto, was the name given to the central character, the hunchback jester, who called Triboulet in Hugo's play.

The debaucherous monarch became the Duke of Mantua, a title that no longer existed, and his background was said to have been in the House of Gonzaga, which had long been extinct. With the alteration or removal of some of the more salacious scenes in Hugo's narrative, they were at last given the green light.

Watch Luciano Pavarotti, at his peak in 1987, singing La donna è mobile

The controversial subject matter almost guaranteed a full house, but it also attracted considerable outside attention. It was not unknown at the time for musical scores to be stolen and copied, and Verdi was wary of the threat.

Although he had completed the composition by early February, he kept it under lock and key, arriving at rehearsals with only the sections to be practised that day. The performers were trusted with possession of the score only in the last days before the premiere.

Felice Varesi was the first tenor to play Rigoletto
Felice Varesi was the first
to sing as Rigoletto
The young tenor Raffaele Mirate, cast as the Duke, was instructed that he was not allowed even to hum or whistle the tune of La donna è mobile, the aria that would be the show-stopper, except during rehearsals.  Other members of the cast had not heard it at all until a few hours before the curtain went up.

With the baritone Felice Varesi cast as Rigoletto and the soprano Teresa Brambilla as his daughter, Gilda, the opera shared a double bill with the ballet Faust, by Giacomo Panizza. La Fenice was packed to the rafters and street singers were reprising La donna è mobile as early as the next morning.

Rigoletto was Verdi's first major Italian triumph since the 1847 premiere of Macbeth in Florence. After an initial run of 13 performances, it returned to La Fenice the following year and by 1852 it had premiered in all the major cities of Italy. Soon it was being performed around the world. The United Kingdom premiere took place in May 1853 in what is now the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden. It was first seen in the United States in February 1855 at New York's Academy of Music.

In modern times, it has become one of the 10 most performed operas in the world. The Duke of Mantua's arias, particularly La donna è mobile and Questa o quella, became staples on recital discs for all of the great tenors, from Enrico Caruso, who numbered them among his earliest recordings in 1902, to Luciano Pavarotti.

The monument to Verdi in the centre of Busseto, his place of birth
The monument to Verdi in the centre
of Busseto, his place of birth
Travel tip:

Giuseppe Verdi came from Busseto, a town in Emilia-Romagna equidistant almost from Parma, Piacenza and Cremona. The area has plenty to offer Verdi fans, who can visit the house where he was born, in 1813, in the village of Le Roncole, the churches of Santa Maria degli Angeli and San Michele Arcangelo, where he played the organ, the Palazzo Orlandi and the Villa Verdi, two of his homes, the Teatro Giuseppe Verdi, which was named in his honour, and the Casa Barezzi, the home of his patron, Antonio Barezzi, which now houses a permanent exhibition of objects and documents related to Verdi and the Barezzi family.

Look for hotels in Busseto with

Travel tip:

Teatro La Fenice, owned by the Municipality of Venice, was founded in 1792. In the 19th century, the theatre staged the world premieres of numerous operas, including Rossini’s Tancredi, Sigismondo and Semiramide, Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi and Beatrice di Tenda, Donizetti’s Belisario, Pia de’ Tolomei and Maria de Rudenz, and Verdi’s Ernani, Attila, Rigoletto, La traviata and Simon Boccanegra.  Originally the Teatro San Benedetto, it was reborn as La Fenice - the Phoenix - after being destroyed by fire. It was badly damaged by further fires in 1836 and 1996, on the last occasion remaining closed for eight years.

Look for a Venice hotel with Tripadvisor

More reading:

How La Fenice keeps rising from the ashes

The death of Giuseppe Verdi - how Italy mourned the loss of a national symbol

Why Luciano Pavarotti was known as the king of the high Cs

Also on this day:

1544: The birth of the poet Torquato Tasso

1847: The birth of First World War statesman Sidney Sonnino

1924: The birth of psychiatrist Franco Basaglia, the man who closed Italy's asylums

(Picture credit: Statue by Libera latino via Wikimedia Commons)


20 November 2015

Queen Margherita of Savoy

Princess and fashion icon who became Queen of Italy

Margherita of Savoy became Queen consort
of Italy by marriage to Umberto I
Margherita Maria Teresa Giovanna of Savoy was born on this day in 1851 in Turin.

The little girl, who was to later become the Queen consort of Italy, was the daughter of Prince Ferdinand Duke of Genoa and Princess Elisabeth of Saxony. She was educated to a high standard and renowned as a charming person with a lively curiosity to learn. A tall, stately blonde, she was not considered a beauty but nonetheless had many admirers.

Having first been suggested to marry Prince Charles of Romania, she instead married her first cousin Umberto, Prince of Piedmont, in April 1868 when she was just 16. The following year she gave birth to Victor Emmanuel, Prince of Naples, who later became King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy. He was to be their only child.

Margherita was crowned Queen of Italy in Naples when Umberto succeeded his father to the throne in January 1878 and she was warmly welcomed by the Neapolitan people.

The city of Naples took Margherita to their hearts, even naming one of their famous pizzas after her
The city of Naples took Margherita to their hearts, even
naming one of their famous pizzas after her
It was not a particularly good marriage for Margherita. Umberto maintained an affair with a long-term lover, Eugenia Attendolo Bolognini, and the breakdown in their relationship may explain the fact that Victor Emmanuel would be their only child. However, they never made their personal separation known to the public, maintaining a harmonious partnership in their working life. 

Always stylishly dressed, in outfits designed and made in Italy and often covered in pretty brooches and pearls, Margherita quickly became a fashion icon and was said to be much more popular than her husband, who was assassinated in 1900.

When her son succeeded his father and became King of Italy, Margherita devoted herself to charitable works and to encouraging cultural organisations.

Queen Margherita died in 1926 at her home in Bordighera in Liguria.

The mountain hut on the top of Punta Gnifetti remains the highest building in Europe at 4,554m
The mountain hut on the top of Punta Gnifetti remains
the highest building in Europe at 4,554m
Travel tip:

A mountain hut is named after Queen Margherita on a peak of the Monte Rosa massif, which is in the Piedmont region on the Swiss-Italian border. The Queen made the climb to Punta Gnifetti for the hut’s inauguration in 1893. At 4,554 metres (14,941 ft) above sea level, it is the highest building in Europe. The closest settlement is Alagna Valsesia, a small village high in the Valsesia alpine valley in the province of Vercelli in Piedmont.

The pizza margherita combines tomato, mozzarella and green basil leaves
The pizza margherita combines tomato,
mozzarella and green basil leaves
Travel tip:

Pizzeria Brandi in Naples still proudly claims to be the ‘queen’s pizzeria’. Despite the debate about who first invented Pizza Margherita, with its tomato, mozzarella and basil topping, which replicates the colours of the Italian flag, it is worth visiting Pizzeria Brandi in Salita Sant’Anna di Palazzo in Naples to taste their version.