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Guiseppe Verdi       Part 3    1851 - 1901

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Stride la vampa
Pavarotti in Trovatore at the
Metropolitan Opera, New York
Il Trovatore is the story of a duke and a troubadour who are are mortal enemies and who are both in love with Leonora. Leonora loves the troubadour. So when the duke is about to execute him, she offers herself to the duke to save her lover's life. She then takes poison. Too late the duke and the troubadour discover they are brothers.

While Verdi was in Rome for rehearsals and for the opening night, he left his mistress Giuseppina Strepponi in Leghorn, from where she sent him passionate love letters. It would seem she acted as his muse.

While he had been working on the composition at their home of Sant'Agata, she had written to him:
STREPPONI: If you are looking forward to my arrival, I am burning to come back.
Addio my wizard. I won't try to express myself in words. I reserve the right to do it with many kisses when I get back.
NARRATOR: At the age of 38 while composing Il Trovatore Verdi had managed to to make an asset of his various operas. His landed estate as Sant"Agata was his second important asset. It was he said:
VERDI: In the middle of a horrible, abandoned village surrounced by yokels and oxen.
Guiseppina Strepponi circa 1845
Guiseppina Strepponi circa 1845
By the end of 1853 he had four oxen, sixteen cows, ten bulls, eleven calves, and six rams. He had quarrelled with his parents, who lived nearby and when his mother died, he was overcome wiuth guilt. As well as composing he compensated with gardening, long tramps in the fields, hunting, the sale of livestock, supervising brick laying and stone setting, tree planting and irrigation. Life at Sant'Agatya began to make him well and strong.

It is not known why he did not take Strepponi to Rome with him. He left her at Leghorn.
STREPPONI: Tomorrow I expect news from you, and pray God it will not fail to come.
If our arms and legs lose flexibility from lack of exercise, then I am afraid I will have lost the use of my tongue when you get back, having observed the silence of a Trappist since I have been here. I read and read and read, until my eyes are red; but sadness and boredom attack me violently during these days that you condemn me to a cell.



La Traviata
at the Salzburg Festival
Monument on the site of the Apollo Theatre
Monument on the site
of the Apollo Theatre, Rome
Meanwhile the success of Il Trovatore was beyond anything Verdi coud have hoped. He was presented with a laurel wreath, embroidered with red ribbons.

After the third performance he was taken home in the midst of a mob of Romans carrying lighted torches. Beneath the balcony of his suite, a band played music from his operas until the early morning.

It did not go badly.

Declared Verdi.


In Paris the year before Verdi had seen Dumas fils's La Dame aux camelias. Immediately after seeing it, he began to compose the music for La Traviata. It was commissioned by the Fenice Theatre, Venice.


Zeffirelli's film of La Traviata
Zeffirelli's film of
La Traviata
Violetta , a famed courtesan, throws a lavish party at her Paris salon to celebrate her recovery from an illness. She is loved by Alfredo a young nobleman. At first she rejects him but three months later, they are living together in a peaceful country house. Alfredo's father demands she break off her relationship with his son, since Violetta's reputation threatens his daughter's engagement. Violetta agrees.

Not knowing this Alfredo suspects that she has become the lover of Baron Douphol. When he accuses her she falls, fainting onto the floor. She will not live long since she has tuberculosis. Too late Alfredo learns of the sacrifice she has made for him and his sister. She dies in his arms.

Partly due to a soprano who was too old and fat to play Violetta the first night was a disaster. Verdi, who was known by the Fenice management as the 'Busseto bear', wrote:
VERDI: La Traviata last night was a fiasco. Is it my fault or the singers?
Time will tell.
NARRATOR: A year later in 1854 La Traviata was produced at another Venetian theatre and the role of Violetta was recast.
VERDI: Then it was a fiasco. Now it is creating an uproar.


The Sicilian Vespers
Sicilian Vespers
Sicilian Vespers
On his estate at Sant'Agata Verdi planted a sycamore for Rigoletto, an oak for Il Trovatore and a weeping willow for La Traviata. Meanwhile, relunctantly, he tore himself away to Paris for very lengthy rehearsals of his new opera The Sicilian Vespers and for arguments with its distinguished, elderly librettist, Eugene Scribe.


It was inspired by the 13th century uprising of the Sicilians against the occupying French. It opened during the Paris Universal Exhibition of 1855. Saint-Saëns said of it:


Hector Berlioz
Hector Berlioz
Verdi is only capable of composing operas about war.

Berlioz was kinder:

One has to agree that the penetrating intensity of the melodic expression, the sumptuous variety and wisdom of the instrumentation, the vastness, the sonority of the ensemble pieces, the colourful warmth that shines everywhere, and that passionate but deliberate force make up the up one of the chacteristic traits of Verdi's genius.
VERDI: It's not going too badly.

NARRATOR: As he became more established Verdi insisted on having control of the casting of his operas.
VERDI: It is my habit not to let any artist be forced on me.
NARRATOR: Speaking of Rosina Penco as a possibe Fool in his opera Re Lear, based on Shakespeare's King Lear, he said:
VERDI: To do the Fool, you need an actress. An opera done badly or done half heartedly is like a painting that is seen in the dark: no one understands it.
NARRATOR: About the prima donna Adelaide Basseglio, 'the bear of Busseto', as he was known, wrote:
VERDI Imagine delicate, heartfelt, sentimental music such as that of La Traviata meowed by a voice that is neither soprano, nor mezzo-soprano nor contralto: add a round, fat body with two extraordinary tits!
NARRATOR: In 1859 a war of Italian independence against Austria started. Verdi's farm was only about 25 kilometres from the front line at Piacenza.
Strepponi wrote:

The Risorgimento
The Risorgimento
Verdi is serious, grave, but calm and trusting in the future. I am more agitated, but I am a woman, with a more excitable temperament

The victories, won up to this moment by our valiant brothers, were not without bloodshed, and without terrible sorrow for thousands of families. Everyone who has an Italian heart must contribute, according to his means, for the holy cause. I propose a subscription to help the wounded and the poor families of those who died for our country.
The Risorgimento
Ronald Pickup and Carla Fracci as
Giuseppe and Giuseppina in the
1982 miniseries The Life of Verdi
Although the Italians were supported by Napoleon III, the War of Independence was not totally successful.

Meanwhile on 29th August 1959 Verdi and Strepponi finally got married.
In a village outside Geneva in Switzerland, before two witnesses, the coachman who brought them there and the bell-ringer of the church, the couple took their vows.

Their happiness was short lived. Napoleon had signed a treaty which annexed Venice to Austria .
VERDI: Instead of singing a hymn of glory, we should despair. Peace is concluded. Venice is Austrian! And where is the independence of Italy so long promised and so long desired? After so many victories, what a result! All the blood spilled for nothing!
But then in 1860 Garibaldi, the Italian general, politician and patriot, and his thousand 'red shirts' conquered Sicily and then Naples, while Victor Emanuele won an important engagement at Castelfidardo in the province of Ancona.

This virtually guaranteed the victory of Italian forces in the entire peninsula. Only a few areas remained to be conquered, including Rome, which remained in the Pope's hands.

When Garibadi met Victor Emanuele, he said:
GARIBALDI: I salute the King of Italy.
NARRATOR: While Verdi proclaimed.
VERDI: Hurrah for Garibaldi! God, he is a man before whom we truly should kneel.


Camillo Benso,
Count of Cavour
Verdi was asked by Cavour, the Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia, to become a member of the new Italian parliament.

Your presence will contribute to the dignity of Parliament and beyond Italy. It will convince our colourful colleagues from the south of Italy, who are very much more susceptible to the influence of your artistic genius than we denizens of the cold Po valley.

Verdi was duly elected and shortly afterwards Cavour died of malaria.
VERDI:I could not keep back my tears and I cried like a boy. Poor Cavour! Poor me!
The Force of
Destiny Overture

The Force of Destiny Washington 2013
After a fallow period an approach from the Imperial Theatre in St. Petersburg awakened a response and he wrote The Force of Destiny which opened in St Petersburg on 17 November 1862.

Result: good. Performance: very, very good. Settings and costumes: extremely opulent.

Verdi Part 4

The Great Composers


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