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The Cambridge Companion to Verdi
Edited by Scott L. Balthazar

Cambridge University Press 2004. First published 2004
ISBN 0 521 63228 5 hardback (£36.63 - ISBN 0 521 635537 paperback (£17.99)
Notes on contributors [page x-xii]
Preface [xiii-xvi]
Chronology [xvii-xxvi]

Part I • Personal, cultural, and political context

1. Verdi's life: a thematic biography. Mary Jane Phillips-Matz [page 3]
2. The Italian theatre of Verdi's day. Alessandro Roccatagliati [page 15]
3. Verdi, Italian Romanticism, and the Risorgimento. Mary Ann Smart [page 29]

Part II • The style of Verdi's operas and non-operatic works

4. The forms of set pieces. Scott L. Balthazar [page 49]
5. New currents in the libretto. Fabrizio Delia Seta [page 69]
6. Words and music. Emanuele Senici [page 88]
7. French influences. Andreas Giger [page 111]
8. Structural coherence. Steven Huebner [page 139]
9. Instrumental music in Verdi's operas. David Kimbell [page 154]
10. Verdi's non-operatic works. Roberta Montemorra Marvin [page 169]

Part III • Representative operas

11. Ernani: the tenor in crisis. Rosa Solinas [page 185]
12. "Ch'hai di nuovo, buffon?" or What's new with Rigoletto. Cormac Newark [page 197]
13. I Verdi's Don Carlos: an overview of the operas. Harold Powers [page 209]
14. Desdemona's alienation and Otello's fall Scott L. Balthazar [page 237]

Part IV • Creation and critical reception

16. An introduction to Verdi's working methods. Luke Jensen [page 257]
17. Verdi criticism. Gregory W. Harwood [page 269]

This book is not a chronology and musical analysis of each of Verdi’s operatic works. Julian Budden’s three-volume study (Cassell. 1983) remains unequalled in that respect. In the introductory chapters of the first two volumes of that seminal study Budden sets the evolution and maturation of Verdi’s works into musicological context. In his later book in the Master Musicians series (Dent. 1984) Budden gives more details on Verdi the man, his life and non-operatic music, with closely linked, non-chronological, narrative. Stanley Sadie for New Grove (Macmillan References. 2000) provides consideration of Verdi as a composer and plot details of the operas but without the musical detail in Budden’s work. What these books all have is cohesion of style with close inter-linking narrative.

This Cambridge Companion is distinctly different and is, I suggest, best suited to those who already have the above volumes and an understanding of their contents. This volume attempts to put Verdi into context and perspective within the four main themes detailed above. In essence the contents are a collection of essentially academic papers. Whilst the contents are within the broad headings they lack both uniformity of style and cohesion of outcome. For this latter failing the editor Scott L. Balthazar must accept some responsibility. Professor of Music History at Westchester University of Pennsylvania, his published articles have been mainly concerned with 19th century Italian opera and theories of instrumental form in the 18th and 19th centuries. His own contribution to this volume (Part II. Chapter 4. pp. 49-68) is mainly concerned with an analysis of arias, duets, finales etc with detailed reference to examples in Verdi operas. He refers in his chapter notes (p. 285) to other of his papers and his Ph.D. dissertation of 1985 titled ‘Evolving Conventions in Italian Serious Opera: Scene Structure in the Works of Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti and Verdi, 1810-1850’ as well as the work of the notable Rossini scholar Philip Gossett and the renowned Verdian Martin Chusid. On the matter of layout, I personally find it frustrating when such detailed chapter notes do not appear at the end of the relevant chapter and appear, as here, collated at the end of the book.

The list of contributors has a heavy American bias. Given that the publisher still boasts an office in Cambridge I was surprised not to see a contribution from that university’s distinguished luminary Roger Parker. His work is, however, amongst the most extensive in the select bibliography (pp. 312-328). The American bias can lead to a rather narrow perspective. Chapter 13 titled ‘Don Carlos: an overview of the operas’ (pp. 209-236) takes the reader through a detailed analysis, by narrative and musical notated examples, of the various revisions that Verdi made to the original, French language, version. However, my hackles rose at this statement in the introductory paragraph: ‘It began to move into the high place in the Verdian canon after the Second World War when it was revived in 1959 by Rudolf Bing for his debut as general manager of New York’s Metropolitan Opera, conducted by Fritz Stiedry’. A pity that the author, Harold Powers, who to quote his biographical notes, ‘has been Visiting Professor at seven American and European Universities’ hadn’t heard of the 1958 Covent Garden production by Visconti and conducted by Giulini. Featuring Gobbi, Christoff, Vickers, Brouwenstijn and Gorr it made world headlines. It was widely recognised as having brought the work from the shadows of neglect to its current central position in the operatic canon as Powers does recognise. Further, that production could, from our present perspective, be seen to be seminal to the Verdi revival that was beginning to get under way. If the author was not aware of that production, reception and ramifications, the editor should have been!

For me one of the most interesting contributions is by Luke Jensen in Part IV (pp. 257-268) titled ‘An introduction to Verdi’s working methods’. Labouring under his official position title of Director of the Office of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Equity at the University of Maryland, he is in fact a not inconsiderable musicologist. Although he manages to push 39 notes into his ten page article; oh for footnotes, or the lost skill of integrating such information easily and meaningfully into the narrative. He takes a traditional view of Verdi’s compositional periods. He illuminates them with insights that will make sense to the general reader. This matter of the general reader and the scholar is the crux of this collection. Who is the target reader? Not, in my view, the Verdi enthusiast who already has the reference volumes referred to. Nor one who is happy with the readable books by George Martin (‘Aspects of Verdi’. Robson Books, 1988 and ‘Verdi, His Music, Life and Times. Macmillan, 1963, reprinted, 1983) or Charles Osborne’s ‘Verdi. A Life in the Theatre’ (Weidenfeld and Nicholson 1987). For those wanting to know about the foibles and irascible character that went with his genius, then Conati’s (Ed) ‘Interviews and Encounters with Verdi’ (English translation. Gollancz, 1984) is the best bet. This Cambridge Companion is more a book for scholars and as such provides different and sometimes unusual insights, albeit often from narrow perspectives.

Robert J Farr

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