Verdi’s Nabucco at the Lyric Opera

February 9, 2016
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Photo by: Ariel Uribe for the Chicago Maroon.

Full of “blood and thunder“—words for the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s staging of Giuseppe Verdi’s Nabucco, an amalgamation of quasi-stories from the Book of Jeremiah and the Book of Daniel coalesced around a love triangle, here revived for the first time since 1998. On the heels of its opening—the full run is from January 23 to February 12—UCP hosted a talk and dinner featuring a lecture “Nabucco and the Verdi Edition” by Francesco Ives. That Verdi Edition, The Works of Giuseppe Verdi, is the most comprehensive critical edition of the composer’s works. In addition to publishing its many volumes, the University of Chicago Press also hosts a website devoted to all aspects of the project, which you can visit here; to do justice to the scope and necessity of the Verdi Edition, here’s an excerpt from “Why a Critical Edition?” on that same site:

The need for a new edition of Verdi’s works is intimately tied to the history of earlier publications of the operas and other compositions. When Verdi completed the autograph orchestral manuscript of an opera, manuscript copies were made by the theater that commissioned the work or by his publisher (usually Casa Ricordi). These copies were used in performance, and most of the autograph scores became part of the Ricordi archives. Copies of the copies were made, and orchestral materials were extracted for performances. With the possible exception of his last operas, Otello and Falstaff, Verdi played no part whatever in preparing the printed scores: almost all printed editions of his works were prepared by Ricordi after Verdi’s death in 1901.

Predictably, these copying and printing practices have yielded vocal and orchestral parts that differ drastically from the autograph scores. Indeed, the problem of operas performed using unreliable parts and scores dates to Verdi’s own lifetime. After the premieres of Rigoletto, Il trovatore, and La traviata, for example, Verdi wrote to Ricordi on 24 October 1855: “I complain bitterly of the editions of my last operas, made with such little care, and filled with an infinite number of errors.”

Copyists and musicians who prepared these errant printed editions were not consciously falsifying Verdi’s text. They merely glossed over particularities of Verdi’s notation (e.g., the simultaneous use of different dynamic levels—“p” and “pp”, for instance) and altered details of his orchestration, which differed considerably from the style of Puccini, whose music dominated Italian opera when the printed editions of Verdi’s works were prepared. These editions, which in certain details drastically compromise the composer’s original text, are the scores that are used today, except where the critical edition has made reliable scores available.

The critical edition of the complete works of Verdi undertaken jointly by the University of Chicago Press and Casa Ricordi is finally correcting this situation.

To read more about The Works of Giuseppe Verdi, click here.

To visit the project’s website, click here.

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