Showing posts with label Rigoletto. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Rigoletto. Show all posts

16 April 2022

Leo Nucci – operatic baritone

Singer renowned for his interpretation of Rigoletto

Leo Nucci's voice has maintained its power even in his 70s
Leo Nucci's voice has maintained
its power even in his 70s
One of the most famous baritones in the world, Leo Nucci, was born on this day in 1942 in Castiglione dei Pepoli, a small town south of Bologna and, since making his stage debut in 1967, has been delighting opera audiences for more than 50 years.

The singer has performed his signature role of Giuseppe Verdi's Rigoletto more than 500 times all over the world. He had planned to retire in 2020, but changed his mind during the first Covid-19 lockdown when the area around his home near the city of Lodi was declared a red zone and subject to the toughest restrictions imposed by the Italian government.

He has said that he lost colleagues and friends to Covid and had the opportunity for reflection while he remained at his home, listening to the sounds of nature, broken only by the sirens of hundreds of ambulances taking victims of the virus to hospital. It was then he realised he ought to move forward in his career and play his role as a singer fully in order to be useful to others.

At the start of his career, Nucci studied with Giuseppe Marchese and won several singing competitions. He first appeared on stage in Spoleto as Figaro in Gioachino Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia. He then joined the chorus of La Scala in Milan. He made his solo debut there in 1975 when he again played Figaro.

He quickly became an international star and made his debut at London’s Royal Opera House in 1978 as Miller in Verdi's Luisa Miller. He played Renato/Ankerstrom in Un ballo in maschera, also by Verdi, at New York’s Metropolitan Opera in 1980. He then played the same role at the Paris Opera in 1981.

Nucci in his signature role, Rigoletto, which he has performed more than 500 times
Nucci in his signature role, Rigoletto, which
he has performed more than 500 times
During his career he has appeared with such stars as Luciano Pavarotti, Joan Sutherland and Placido Domingo. In 2019, Nucci sang during the celebrations for the Verdi anniversary Verdi in Parma. Long associated with Verdi's baritone roles, Nucci’s singing and acting abilities have been displayed most notably in the roles of Rigoletto, Macbeth, the Count di Luna in Il trovatore, Iago in Otello and Falstaff.

He is married to the soprano Adriano Anelli, with whom he has a daughter. They first met in La Scala’s restaurant and, three and a half years after they were married, they appeared in Rigoletto together.

After lockdown restrictions were lifted in Italy, Nucci returned to the stage at the age of 78 in Verdi's La traviata, which was performed at La Scala and at the Arena di Verona.

He has been a trombone player for many years but more recently has learnt to play the cello. He has also embarked on directing the staging of operas, drawing on his years of performing experience.

The Palazzo Pepoli in Castiglione dei Pepoli dates back to the late 15th century
The Palazzo Pepoli in Castiglione dei Pepoli
dates back to the late 15th century
Travel tip:

Castiglione dei Pepoli, Nucci's place of birth, can be found about 55km (34 miles) south of Bologna in Emilia Romagna, at the foot of Monte Gatta, in the Bolognese Apennines, on the border with Tuscany. It enjoys spectacular views over the valley of Brasimone. The small town takes its name from the noble Pepoli family of Bologna. At the centre, a small medieval square features the ancient Palazzo Pepoli, built towards the end of the 15th century, which is now the municipal administration headquarters. On the opposite side of the square stands a beautiful clock tower built in 1724.  According to legend, the nearby Santuario della Madonna di Bocca di Rio was built in the place where, in 1480, two shepherds had an apparition of the Virgin who asked them to erect in that forest a temple in her honour. The sanctuary has become a destination for pilgrimages from all over Italy.

Piazza della Vittoria in the centre of Lodi is rated one of Italy's most beautiful squares
Piazza della Vittoria in the centre of Lodi is
rated one of Italy's most beautiful squares
Travel tip:

Lodi, the city in the area where Nucci made his home, is in Lombardy, about 45km (28 miles) southeast of Milan and on the right bank of the River Adda. The main square, Piazza della Vittoria, has been listed by the Touring Club of Italy as among the most beautiful squares in Italy and it has porticoes on all four sides. Nearby Piazza Broletto has a 14th century marble baptismal font from Verona. Notable buildings include the 12th-century Romanesque cathedral, the 15th century church of the Incoronata. Lodi is an important agricultural and industrial centre noted for cheese, ceramics, wrought iron, and wool products. Historically, it is famous for being the scene of the first major battle led by the young Napoleon Bonaparte, who defeated the Austrians in the Battle of Lodi in 1796.  

Also on this day:

1118: The death of Adelaide del Vasto, Countess of Sicily

1839: The birth of politician Antonio Starabba, Marchese di Rudini

1858: The birth of gold prospector Felice Pedroni

1881: The birth of artist and illustrator Fortunino Matania


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.

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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)