Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Joe Green, the world's greatest opera composer

That's how my first music teacher referred to this guy, whose name (translated from Italian) is indeed Joseph Green:

And just in time for Opera Carolina's October production of "Nabucco" comes a new book from Amadeus Press in its "Unlocking the Masters" series: Victor Lederer's "Verdi: The Opera and Choral Works."

I had already read "The Great Instrumental Works," M. Owen Lee's installment in this series, so I knew what to expect: A compact, lucid evaluation of all of Giuseppe Verdi's operas (including the obscure ones) and requiem mass, with whole chapters devoted to the most significant pieces.

Lederer separates Verdi's catalogue into major and lesser works (correctly, from my point of view), summarizes plots, indicates key arias and ensembles, and offers brief but pointed critical commentary. Even someone who thinks he's an expert on the composer might find insights here.

Most crucially, the book comes with a 79-minute CD of Golden Age performances of Verdi's arias. (No choruses, though. So no "Va, pensiero" from "Nabucco," the composer's first hit tune and successful show.) The oldest of these arias brings us tenor Edmond Clément singing "La donna e mobile" in French in 1904; the newest come from Bulgarian bass Boris Christoff and Italian tenor Mario del Monaco, both singing in Italian during the 1950s. If your grandfather droned on about the irreplaceable Claudia Muzio and Rosa Ponselle, you'll find out what he meant.

If you've never heard a note of opera, you'll want to start with a different overview of the art form. If you're already convinced that Verdi has no peer as a composer for the stage -- which I believe, Mozart fanatic though I am -- this will be a fine way to familiarize yourself quickly with Big Joe Green.


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