Further Reading

by Paul Dorgan

Thanks to Google it's easy to access articles on just about any topic, including most of the ones in Utah Opera's on-line class. Google articles tend to be brief and without a lot of depth. For those of you who want to delve further into Verdi here's a list of books that might be of value.

The English National Opera Guides are very useful handbooks on individual operas (not just ones by Verdi). Each Guide contains two or three essays on the composer/opera; the story; a list of musical themes; photos from various productions; the libretto in the original language with a singing translation parallel; some recordings of the work. (A "singing translation" is not the most accurate kind as the English text has to fit the notes of the original language.)

Giuseppe Verdi
Budden, Julian. The Operas of Verdi (3 vols.) This is the definitive study of Verdi's operas; The discussion of the music may get a little technical if you're not a musician, but the story of how each opera came to be written, various struggles with librettists, censors, even singers, makes for fascinating reading. Each volume contains essays that give context to Verdi's output. Budden's knowledge of opera, and not just Italian opera, was encyclopedic. An extraordinary achievement!!

Hughes, Spike. Famous Verdi Operas. Hughes discusses some of the operas, though not to the same depth as Budden. Nor is the musical discussion as technical!

Kimbell, David R.B. Verdi in the age of Italian Romanticism. This takes Verdi to mid-career: the last opera discussed is La Traviata. But what a read it is! There are chapters on the Italian political scene; the business of opera; censorship; Hugo and French Romanticism; Byron; Shakespeare, as well as, of course, the operas.

Osborne, Charles. The Complete Operas of Verdi. Osborne has specialized in "Complete Operas of..." books: Mozart, Wagner, Puccini, Strauss, with a non-musical trip down Agatha Christie way! It's an easy read.

Phillips-Matz, Mary Jane. Verdi. A Biography. With over 760 pages of text, this is a monumental book which was published in 1993. It is by far the most detailed biography of the composer and there are some surprises thanks to Phillips-Matz's research. Since this is a biography there is no discussion of the operas.

Victor Hugo
Barnett Smith, G. Victor Hugo: His life and works.

Hugo, Victor. The Memoirs of Victor Hugo.

Robb, Graham. Victor Hugo: a biography.

Francesco Maria Piave
A search on Amazon revealed no biography of Francesco Maria Piave. Which is not to say that someone, somewhere, did not write one - just that there isn't one currently in print. But, more often than not, suppliers of words to composers are confined to the background. We know Gilbert, but he was very put out when Sullivan received a knighthood before he did. Thanks to Loewe, we know Lerner (though, alphabetically, the lyricist precedes the composer - which may explain the order). Ira wrote for his brother George. Both Hart and Hammerstein take second billing to Rodgers, which is somewhat ironic, since it was Hammerstein who launched the Broadway musical into un-navigated waters Irving Berlin wrote his own lyrics, as did Cole Porter; Noël Coward and Meredith Wilson wrote everything: script, lyrics and music! Sondheim, in his early days, wrote lyrics for other composers, but soon insisted on writing his own music as well. When it comes to Broadway and popular song our knowledge of authorship becomes very vague. It's vaguer with "classical" music. We know Beethoven wrote the music to Fidelio, but who wrote the words? To Don Giovanni; Il barbiere di Siviglia; Carmen; Peter Grimes? Unknown, except to the specialist. Same thing happens with movies: we know that Francis Ford Coppola directed The Godfather movies, but who wrote the script? And The Wizard of Oz? Psycho? Singing in the rain? We may know the composers of those operas, or the directors of those movies, but surely none of these great operas and movies would have happened without words as an initial spur! Pity Piave! Employed by a theatre to supply librettos on a variety of subjects to composers, and then change anything and everything because the Chief of Police objects, and then try to placate composer and police! Let's admit that Piave was bullied by Verdi into re-write after re-write, but the resulting libretto was a masterpiece of concision which told the story and gave us individual characters. Surely he deserves some attention!

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