Remembering Joe Green: Giuseppe Verdi Turns 200
By: Brad Kronen
SELECTION VI: "BRINDISI" OR DRINKING SONG FROM VERDI'S MACBETH
Even the great Giuseppe Verdi, himself, can be a starstruck fan.
And if one were able to actually ask the Music Master about his leanings towards this particular Titan of fame, he most likely wouldn’t hesitate in responding that wasn't it more than obvious that he, Joe Green, was this artistic force's biggest fan?
Although not written in his native language of Italian, Verdi was more than thoroughly well versed in all of his works, which he had each read repeatedly.
This famed personality was SO revered by the composer, a special term of endearment was reserved for him whenever Verdi used the word “Pappa”.
Verdi so highly idolized this person’s artistic genius, he took four of his works and set them each to music.
I can only be referring to the man whom many consider to be the greatest writer of the English language and whose plays are as timely today as they were when originally written 500 years ago – the Bard of Avon, William Shakespeare.
Verdi took 4 of Shakespeare’s plays and set them to music in operatic form with one opera being the fusion of 2 of the Bard's creations written for the theatrical stage: Macbeth, Falstaff (an operatic combination of The Merry Wives of Windsor and Henry IV), and Othello (in Italian, Otello).
Much has been written about the latter two. Written at the twilight of his life when the Maestro was 80 years old, Falstaff is the last of Verdi’s creations. His only comedy, (actually his only successful comedy, since Verdi tried his hand making with the musical yuk-yuks with his 2nd opera that was a complete flop) is seen by many music scholars as a culmination of the Maestro’s music genius and amassed artistic experiences, as well as a highly personalized Swan Song which bids farewell to a career spanning many decades and traversing through various generations.
Otello is the musical version of Shakespeare’s play of the same name. Whereas most renditions of classic works detract from their source, many agree that Verdi’s masterpiece actually adds more to the Bard’s original efforts. The opera departs from the play, its music making it a fuller, richer theatrical experience, overall. Critics and fans alike state that wherever Otello is lacking in original poetry or words, it’s all resolved by Verdi’s dramatically sublime music.
Which leaves us with The Scottish Play.
After Ballo, Verdi’s Macbeth is my 2nd favorite Verdi opera and the 2 works make up my top 5 favorite musical works of all time. Plus, I’ll take a Shakespearean remake that’s top heavy on the forces of the diabolical, along with blood covered ghosts rising from the grave to seek vengeance amongst the living ANY DAY OF THE WEEK, THANK YOU.
I love every note of this piece. Although written relatively early in his career, Verdi composed Macbeth with an economy of means in the score and the libretto, where not a minute is wasted in making the listener either thoroughly horrified, or downright petrified. To give just one example from a countless list of many, in Lady Macbeth’s Sleepwalking Scene, where in the play the character says her famous somnambular words of “Out, out damned spot!”, Verdi has the evil Queen’s first sleep filled mumblings match her sense of guilt filled urgency, with Lady M’s sung entrance merely being “Una Macchia” – A spot.
When the incomparable Shirley Verrett passed away in 2010, I wrote an article recounting my memories of being fortunate enough to hear her voice live and of meeting the woman who truly embodied the best connotations associated with the word “Diva”. The published piece was entitled, “The Convergence of Divine Opposites: Shirley Verrett, Singer & Gemini”.
Along with discussing how Ms. Verrett’s artistry was pivotal with my evolutionary growth as both a singer and a human being, the article also retells the story of Shirley’s biggest operatic triumph which eventually became her signature role – Lady Macbeth in Verdi’s Macbeth.
To quote that piece:
Voi Siete Demente?
By far, Shirley Verrett's greatest transitional triumph into the soprano repetoire was a role greatly admired and feared for its dualisticly devilish difficulties of vocal production and dramatic display - Lady Macbeth in Verdi's operatic homage to the "Scottish play", Macbeth. Lady Macbeth is the epitome of duality twistedly transformed for the self serving purposes of murderous manipulation. The psyche of Macbeth's cheerleading-for-murder spouse can at any given time juxtaposingly split: in public, she can rouse the sympathies of her people in a drinking song, while in private, she can rouse her mate into killing not only his loyal colleague but the victim's young children as well. In the opera's Great Hall scene where Macbeth, now King of Scotland asks his Queen to lead her people into a drinking toast, Verrett's voice beams with enthusiasm. My favorite line of the opera, (actually it's my favorite only when Shirley does it) is when Macbeth comes out of the seizure-like fit of his panic attack after seeing the specter of newly murdered Banquo in his seat. Horrified and mortified her hubby has just unraveled in front of a full house with his public display of guilt, Lady Macbeth approaches her sweatily prostrate husband, asking him, "Voi Siete Demente?" "Are you demented?"
In the 1979 Deutsche Grammaphone studio recording, Verrett makes this inquiry under her breath, but the question is spiked with a "Just you wait til I get you alone" intensity, she literally hisses at her husband with a hushed tone of seething, vitriolic rage!
Shirley's performances of Lady Macbeth made audiences delirious with her chameleon like dramatic ability to show the juxtaposing sides of Lady Macbeth's power starved psyche. Nowhere was this more apparent than in Verdi's homeland, Italy. Verrett's Lady Macbeth was received so well at La Scala, the Milanese dubbed her with their own triumphant title of dualistic distinction, "La Nera Callas", "The Black Callas".
More than enough said.