The world has been awash in more Verdian sounds than usual this year, thanks to the preeminent Italian opera composer's bicentennial. Since Oct. 10 marks Verdi's actual 200th birthday (OK, it might have been the day before, but most sources go with the 10th), I figured I had to take extra note of the occasion.
(The thumbnail photo for this blog post is the Verdi memorial on Broadway near Lincoln Center; I snapped it on Wednesday during a brief visit to New York.)
Given all of the reasons why I love Verdi, I could bore you with a list of my Top 10 greatest this-and-that, those moments when his genius invariably blows me away with the curve of a melodic line, the shift of a harmony, the perfect coloring of orchestration.
But I decided to try to boil everything down to one example, one that combines the power of Verdi's music with an example of what can happen when an extra-inspired interpreter grabs hold of it.
The piece is the Overture to "La forza del destino" (you can hear the whole opera starting this weekend in a new, bicentennial-saluting production from Washington National Opera). The interpretation, my all-time favorite, is the one conducted by the incomparable Dimitri Mitropoulos in Florence, 1953.
You can hear a thousand performances of this overture and never encounter one like it -- I've heard two or three versions Mitropoulos conducted with other orchestras at other times that are not like this one.
I don't know what got into him that night in Florence, but I just love what he does every step of the way, especially the big slow down he takes before the coda. Most conductors would not dare do anything so unconventional these days -- more's the pity.
(I realize it's not quite kosher to celebrate Verdi only with an orchestral sampling, but it would take me too long to decide on a vocal one -- by the time I sorted out my favorite Verdi performances by Leontyne, Montserrat, Jussi, Franco and many more, it would be time for the composer's tricentennial.)