Five Excerpts from Verdi’s “Simon Boccanegra”

The premiere of the first version of Giuseppe Verdi’s three act opera, Simon Boccanegra, took place in Venice on this date (March 12) in 1857. At this first performance, the dark, historical drama, once described by the composer as “too sad and desolate,” was a flop. Verdi returned to the work over twenty years later with an 1881 revision that was more successful. This is the version that is most often heard today. It contains some …

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Remembering Dmitri Hvorostovsky

The Russian operatic baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky passed away this week following a two-and-a-half-year battle with brain cancer. He was 55. Here are some highlights from his distinguished career: In the aria, Ja vas lyublyu, from the second act of Tchaikovsky’s The Queen of Spades, Prince Yeletsky pours out his love for Liza while lamenting her inability to trust him fully. Listen to the way this aria moves from majestically soaring passion to the depths of despair as the …

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The Coronation Scene from Boris Godunov: Opera’s Biggest Spectacle?

From its origins in medieval and Renaissance courtly entertainment, opera has always been partly rooted in spectacle. Nineteenth century French grand opera used large casts, expanded orchestras, grandiose scenery, consumes and special effects, and ballet to bring to life epic heroic tales based on historical subjects. (Meyerbeer’s five-act Les Huguenots from 1836 is an example.) A sense of theatricality and spectacle is at the heart of the Triumphant March from Verdi’s Aida, set in ancient Egypt. History (this time recent) became …

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Remembering Tenor Jon Vickers

  The Canadian tenor Jon Vickers, who brought “a colossal voice and raw dramatic intensity” to some of opera’s most powerful roles, passed away on Friday following a battle with Alzheimer’s disease. He was 88. After studying at Toronto’s Royal Conservatory of Music, Vickers rose to prominence in the late 1950s and early 60s with appearances at London’s Royal Opera House, Covent Garden and the Metropolitan Opera. His recordings suggest that he had …

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Music Inspired by Shakespeare

Historians believe that today marks the 450th birthday of William Shakespeare. Throughout history, Shakespeare’s plays have been a rich source of inspiration for composers. A few months ago we heard Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet tone poem. Now let’s celebrate with some more music inspired by the Bard of Avon: Play, music! And you, brides and bridegrooms all,With measure heap’d in joy, to the measures fall. -As You Like It The man that …

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Verdi’s 200th Birthday

Today marks the 200th birthday of the great Italian opera composer, Giuseppe Verdi. Verdi wrote dramatically powerful operas such as Aida, Otello, Un Ballo in Maschera and Rigoletto.  Here is the Overture to La forza del destino performed by Riccardo Muti and the Vienna Philharmonic. What moods and dramatic situations are suggested by the music? How does Verdi convey these emotions? [quote]The greatness of Verdi is a simple thing. Solitary by nature, he found a way of speaking to …

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