American landscapes in european opera, Guiseppe Verdi's Rigoletto paradigm

Thesis (M.A.), 2008

99 Pages, Grade: 7.81




Key Words



Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three


Works Cited


The operatic genre is considered to be locked in a rigid itinerary, which cannot perform detours of any kind. Therefore, it is thought to be genre that is more revered than respected bearing, thus, a resemblance to religion rather than art. What this dissertation seeks to explore is a certain possibility in the form of a hypothesis. We will explore the “what-if” of unlocking this rigidity and attempting a sort of transfiguration. By painting the scenery, or rather the landscape of opera in colors of current American trends and traits. USA has always been a country which has had the privilege of nurturing opera fans by supporting the popularity of opera in a variety of ways. What will be examined are the ways that inspired directors Jonathan Miller and his 1975 “Mafia” production of Rigoletto for the ENO as well as James McDonald’s 2002 “White House” production of the opera for the WNO, to present the opera in an American context. Giuseppe Verdi’s masterpiece Rigoletto along with its manifestations and interpretations by these two directors that design and paint an American landscape for European either by provoking the audience and in particular, opera-buffs and hardcore fans, or by triggering images known and popular to the wider audience bestowing upon opera a most welcome sense and nuance of familiarity and belongingness. Rigoletto offers and carries the powerful potential to function as a canvas for this venture to be formulated. The opera’s characters, as viewed through the landscapes that these two directors have painted, invite the audience to familiarize themselves with figures that are flexible enough to unfold as space-less, deterritorialized images that have the ability to provoke and boast an Americaness which can be either welcome or cause a bit of an uncomfortable spine-tingling wonderment of political and cultural nature.


America, Americaness, Audience, Canvas Censors, Censorship, Composer, Europe, European, Familiarity, Icons Images, Imagery, Interpretation, Landscape, Mafia, Manifestation, Relocation, Renovation, Text, Textuality, White-House.


I would like to thank my supervisors, Dr. Nikolaos Kontos and Dr. Tatiani Rapatzikou for their aid, guidance, support and patience during the process of writing and editing this dissertation. I could not have completed this task and achieved my goal without their invaluable help and constructive collaboration. Their assistance and guidance is really appreciated and highly esteemed. It is with the greatest admiration and respect that I would like to thank and show my gratitude to Dr. Charles E. Gannon for his invaluable support, faith in me and my work in dire times of near quitting as well as for his remarkable and unique honesty and magnanimity. Most importantly, it is for his faith and utmost belief in me that I will always be grateful to as well as eternally indebted. I need to express my gratitude and declare my everlasting friendship to friend and fellow member of the Transatlantic Studies Association Dr. Constance Post. I would also like to thank Dr. Karin Boklud Lagopoulou for her invaluable pieces of advice in a time of bewilderment. To Dr. Vagelis Syropoulos I would like to express my appreciation for being a true friend, supporter and advisor in times of need and puzzlement. I need to express my gratitude and my immense appreciation to three great friends: Mrs. Chryssoula Papiopoulou, Ms. Daphne Moustaklidou and Ms. Artemis Moustaklidou of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, School of English, Secretariat for their vital support, aid and, most importantly, belief in me and my work. Above all and everything, there are no words to describe and express the need I feel to thank and show my eternal gratitude to my beloved parents, Theano and Anastasios for everything I have been, I am and I will always be.


The aim of this project is to examine certain traits of the operatic genre that have not yet been extensively investigated during the course of operatic studies. The thematic strand which unifies all concepts to be analyzed is the presence of a potential, newly acquired characteristic of opera, that of a permeating Americaness in European opera – with Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto used as an effective paradigm, which has received minimum, or no attention at all, within the development of Verdian studies. Emphasis will be placed on the idea of a plausible relocation of the work’s originally attributed context by the composer in a specific socio-political framework to a more contemporary one of an alternate origin, thus proving Rigoletto’s and opera’s – in general – diachronic quality. Each chapter focuses on a variety of aspects of this relocating process ranging from the historical – in the form of a historical overview of the work under examination – as well as the contemporary in the form of two cotemporary productive readings of the work that prove to be cornerstones of this process that this dissertation is dealing with.

The world of opera is overwhelmed with contradictory feelings, love and hatred, tragedy and redemption, villains and heroes. Above all these, it is a world overflowing with the human voice in all its grandeur and glory. The human voice gives its own sub-voice to the expression of feelings, thoughts – primary and secondary – desires and yearnings. At this point, it would be better to spare this analysis the lecture on the form of opera, since, though opera maybe stereotypically considered to be an indulgence of an elite part of the society, most everyday people have once in their lives listened to a small piece, a phenomenally insignificant chunk of the operatic genre and this is something that needs to be admitted. From the highly popular, though by some highly misunderstood “Three Tenors” concerts which have been taking place for the sixteen years to the legendary “Rabbit of Seville” starring, perhaps, the ultimate comedian of one’s childhood Bugs Bunny, once in one’s life, one has had the chance to be exposed to opera. One, hence, has listened to the interpolation of high notes, the rendition of heroic deeds, the eerie depiction of vile acts of passion and hatred. For some of us, the bullet-like, explosive interpolation of a high note may sound a tad scary or rather intimidating for the human voice can indeed by terrifying when utilized in full throttle. However, when all intimidations are cast aside and all prejudice vanishes, what the humble listener is provided with is a spectacular combination of glorious singing along with competent histrionics, which have been altered through years of development and evolution on the ground of new terms of reading and re-reading the musical text.

What the listener-spectator is in need to, at least, attempt to comprehend is what exactly is to sing through the eyes of the operatic singer as well as the operatic composer. To sing is not merely a utilization of the human voice for the sole purpose of adding lyrical, verbal clusters of words to chunks of musical text. To sing is to project whatever lies beneath layers and structures of thoughts through the eyes of one, physical or mental, through one’s imagination and emotional reality to one’s external, peripheral one. The very essence of singing, its structure is to be found in its own refutation. The singer is to deconstruct the composed and eventually sung text and uncover its essence in order to discover the material that the composer has provided for the singer/interpreter in order to vocally, dramatically, theatrically, mentally and emotionally paint landscapes of music combined with the artistic rawness of the human voice. And it is those landscapes that we are going to watch become visualized. They are not solitary, but they are to be placed in multifaceted artistic canvas bursting with an abundance of voices making polyphony its own unique color of distinction. One could now rhetorically wonder about the whereabouts of opera as well as America so far in this endeavor. Hence an answer is required.

Were it for the question to be relocated or paraphrased, it would need to focus on as to what exactly is or could be American about opera and especially European one. It is, by no means our intention to merely implant or trace elements that bear any resemblance at all to what we may call American ideology, political or cultural, in other words what we do and should not intend to do is to present European operas as American. What we intend to deal with is sorts of artistic case-studies of operas that would prove to be diachronic in a multiplicity of circumstances. It is, however, this artistic reality that we wish to localize and relocate, hypothetically or in actuality, to examine whether it can be observed under progressing as well as progressive circumstances and in our case ones that are of American origins. Whether this can be actually achieved or not, remains to be seen. This could actually prove that we do not only notice in opera merely the beauty and the grandeur of the human voice, but also witty plots or cunning sub-plots as well as mental or emotional passions along with heroes or heroines and villains or villainesses, mythical or realistic. What needs to be discovered is a possible reflection of the audience’s taste whether local or international or in our case, European and/or American, which certainly does and should not abide by, insist on or be manipulated by the rules of musical formation and stereotypical aesthetics of perceiving and eventually comprehending opera. To put it in simpler words, it is not always about what is, but also about what it could be where “it” remains true to the belief in art’s ubiquity.

What if, then, one of the most well-known works of the operatic repertoire, Rigoletto, could be traced in a non-Italian landscape? What if the landscape painted by Giuseppe Verdi for his quintessential hunchback nearly two centuries ago could serve as a canvas for further landscapes to be painted over? There are questions that the work itself can only answer via its diachronic element and the versatility of its creator. The way that Verdi introduced and placed the work’s characters into the terrain he had created for them, also determines their effect on the audience. All characters perfectly embody the traits originally assigned to them. According to Linda and Michael Hutcheon in Bodily Harm: Living Opera,

That the audience did not laugh but instead was moved by the disabled man’s plight is a matter of record, even if some early critics still lamented the “French” taste for the grotesque conjunction of beauty and deformation. Verdi persisted in thinking that both his subject and its sympathetic treatment were revolutionary. And so they were, and this could be seen in the changes from the French original, as well as in the (then still) daring portrayal of the operatic stage. Perhaps in part because of Verdi’s music, Rigoletto is considerably more moving a character than Triboulet, and the result is that, instead of being the major instigator of evil in the court, he is seen more as its victim: “Rigoletto engages in acts of cruelty and hatred not merely because of his deformity or occupation, but in reaction to the contempt and degradation with which he is treated.” A typical scapegoat, he is both inside that community and excluded from it, distanced by his special isolating identity; when the courtiers are angered by the actions of the handsome Duke, they take it out on his admittedly sharp-tongued jester, the target with the marked body. When one of the courtiers tells the others he has learned great news about Rigoletto, he is interrupted at once by mocking questions: “Perduto ha la gobba? Non e piu difforme?” [Has he lost his hump? Is he no longer deformed?]. No, he reports, the news is even stranger than that: “Il gobbo in Cupido or s’e transformato!” [The hunchback has been transformed into Cupid] and has a lover! The other courtiers register their shock in terms of the monstrous: “Quel monstro Cupido!” As we have seen, this desexualization is a constant in dramatized representation of hunchbacks.” (75)

Rigoletto’s appearance fits perfectly the landscape of deformity and monstrosity that Verdi makes use of in order to formulate his hunchbacked jester which as it will be witnessed further in the chapters to follow, will change origins and acquire new American ones. It was Verdi and his librettist Piave who initiated the process of operatic relocation based on Victor Hugo’s Le Roi s’Amuse, the composer’s initial source of inspiration and artistic life force. In The Dramatic Genious of Giuseppe Verdi: Studies of Selected Operas Vol.1 From La Traviata to Nabucco, Vincent Godefroy states:

The tripping music[1] is certainly refreshing, but the vivacity is all on Gilda’s side, for it is not very long before her father is voicing his suspicions and generally behaving with mistrust. To her curiosity about their family background he is curt and uninformative, and the jolly music gives way to at once to rapid chords. But when she mentions her mother he melts into his first real tune in the opera – “Deh non parlare al misero” with a disarming modulation. Verdi is back to his consummate craft of pouring out the right melody to embody the singer’s emotion. The anguish and inner tenderness of this hard-boiled creature, expressed in such a manner, seduce us into realms of pity. Gilda joins him con agitazione, and another Verdi father-daughter duet is under way. From Nabucco to Aida they unfold; a juxtaposed relationship much favoured by the composer. But here is no mutual understanding. All is restless, frenetic. The father is on edge; the daughter importunate. She ingenious; he suspicious. As in the preceding monologue, themes break off, moods change, a climax is reached with crashing chords ( Ernani type[2] ), and then Rigoletto begins “Ah! Veglia o donna,”[3] his second tune and still in character with his penchant for sentimental self worry. Even this duet is interrupted by his sudden suspicion that someone is lurking in the street. He actually breaks off in the middle of a word, and the orchestra rushes along as the Duke sneaks into the courtyard. Rigoletto, not observing him, resumes and completes the grand tune – with some nervous embroidery by Gilda – with the full orchestra rounding it off as Rigoletto departs. This structural weakness is taken over from Hugo. We are left to wonder why the hunchback, after so carefully letting himself into his courtyard, should be obliged to go out again so soon, without even entering his house. If he had pressing business elsewhere, why come home at all? Of course, he has to be out of the way when Gilda’s (or Blanche’s[4] ) girlish dreams come true with a declaration of love, just as he has to be back again for the dramatic finale devised by Hugo. But we cannot help feeling that Triboulet’s necessary absence is not well accounted for. True, he does remark that it is time for him to go back to his degrading duty. But this cannot be true, for we all know (if he does not) that his royal master is not just now in the Louvre, and all the remaining courtiers (as we shall soon see for ourselves) are having time off. Piave’s Rigoletto makes no sort of excuse. He just sings “addio” and departs. (204)

Having been originally launched by composer and librettist, this relocation of Hugo’s play and transformation into Rigoletto, as it is known, was the key turning point to making this particular opera diachronic, adaptable as well as adjustable to current frameworks of time and place along with cultural and socio-political circumstances. It is this merging of contradictory elements that render the work its plasticity and its accessibility with regard to diverse dynamics – cultural aspects, politics and poetics of interpretation. In his study entitled A Song of Love and Death: The Meaning of Opera, Peter Conrad claims:

The festivity is at its most troubling in Rigoletto, alternately morbid and jocular. The prelude begins with baleful prognostications, then turns frivolous. The work has eerie gaiety of a scherzo, and Rigoletto wants to believe that the kidnapping and rape of Gilda was a practical joke – “fu scherzo, non e vero?” Blindfolded by the plotters or served up the wrong body in the sack, he is the victim of a murderous farce. Rigoletto dares to be a comic opera gone wrong. Though the hero’s profession is jesting, he lives in horror of defamatory laughter, afraid that the courtiers will mock his deformity. His own foolery is potentially deadly, when he jeers that the Duke should slice off Ceprano’s head. The Comic spirit here has no Falstaffian mellowness. Rigoletto’s clowning is as rabid as the erotic fires of Il Trovatore. (153)

Hence the work can be regarded as a fusion of alternating generators of emotional stimuli for the characters and, most importantly, for the eponymous one. Hugo’s Le Roi s’amuse, therefore is what paves the way for Rigoletto’s genesis and development over a simultaneously transformed socio-political landscape. The move from comic to tragic to frivolous and, eventually, to destructive occurs in tandem with adjusting to and between spatial landscapes; from French to Italian to American as this dissertation aims at eventually demonstrating in the chapters to come.

Chapter One: The process of relocation discussed here ranges from the moment of the work’s artistic birth since it was the text of Victor Hugo’s Le Roi s’amuse that was relocated and transformed into the socio-political time and place framework of Verdi’s Rigoletto. This chapter also deals with an overall historical overview of the opera and in particular with the fight that the composer and his librettist Fransesco Maria Piave had to put up with against censorship before the work’s conclusion and eventual presentation to audiences. An introduction to the work’s cast characters is also provided. This chapter focuses on the theoretical background provided by Charles Osborne’s influential study on the work entitled under the eponymous character, Rigoletto.

Chapter Two: This chapter discusses the political nature of the work and delves into the first relocating reading of Rigoletto while examining James McDonald’s 2002 production of the work for the Welsh National Opera. The new context assigned to the opera is the American 60’s and the iconoclastic nature of the production brings audience steps closer to comprehending the Americaness of this context Every effort has been made on behalf of the director to make viewers identify with the production’s American as well as political nuances and aspects. Theoretically, the writing of this chapter has been influenced by Parallels and Paradoxes: Explorations in Music and Society, a gathering of conversations between Edward Said and Daniel Barenboim, renowned philosopher and musician respectively and edited by journalist Ara Guzelimian.

Chapter Three: To another productive reading does this chapter move on to, that of Joanathan Miller’s 1975 production of Rigoletto. This production proves to be another intensely iconoclastic (re)reading of the work under consideration, providing audiences with another newly acquired, Americanized context for the opera. The question to which an answer is going to be attempted is whether, through this interpretation, the work still remains as Giuseppe Verdi’s creation or Jonathan Mller’s recreation. This chapter’s influence can be influenced by the work of Roland Barthes, in particular, the Death of the Author.

It is only to be hoped for that after these three chapters, a better understanding of the work would be accomplished. In addition, through the examination of the two productions to be considered, a realization of the idea of Americaness would be achieved in order to effectively justify the diachronic quality that Verdi’s Rigoletto as well as the operatic genre in general exhibit.


Dramatis Personae, the Past and the Interpretative Potential

In a world of different cultural tastes and values, opera bears the same stigma with classical music: It’s the stigma of the old, the obsolete and the idealized in an old-fashioned way and manner. According to Julian Johnson in Who Needs Classical Music?,

Classical music today occupies a position similar to that of religion in other ways. For a majority of people, it derives from an earlier age, very different from our own, and survives only as an anachronism. While its apparent lack of modernity puts many people off, it is occasionally welcomed for the touch of solemnity and historical gravity it brings to big public occasions. It is tolerated so long as it presents itself as a wholly private matter – “a matter of faith” – but given little space if it begins to preach or make claims binding upon others. It has a place as one of many diverse cultural choices whose value is conferred by their use, by what they do for the people who use them rather than by any intrinsic properties. It is seen as a relatively closed world, defined by formal ritual and practices that divide it from the everyday. Classical music, like religion, thus survives in contemporary society shorn of the claims with which it was earlier identified. (7)

What Johnson’s rightful claim, regarding classical music, points to is a current, generically inevitable truth in relation to opera as well, and that would concern its place in the modern world of taste and cultural values which is the same as classical music. Opera, like classical music, is respected but it is not at all times willingly understood. Such is the case with Rigoletto and such is also he case with this dissertation. To show an all but harmful disrespect to the genre that has been mainly revered as well as feared due to its elevated status. To speculate upon a potential change in the origins of the work under consideration would eventually point to a much-desired demystification of the genre. The significance of this chapter lies in its purpose to pave the way for the work to unfold and evolve into a new canvas of landscapes, by introducing the work, its original background and framework.

Giuseppe Verdi’s versatility as a composer is apparent in the case of Rigoletto, a more than popular work of the mainstream operatic repertoire, which has received numerous readings, productions, and interpretations of sorts on both sides of the Atlantic. With regard to productions for the sake of understanding the work, a historical introduction to it needs to be made on the basis of the work’s socio-political background as well as upon its characters. With Rigoletto, the tradition of the grand opera is refuted and ultimately subverted by introducing a new kind of simplicity in terms of structure and the depiction of complex emotion. All characters in the opera constitute varying mirrors that reflect angles of reality and human emotion meticulously done throughout Verdi’s Rigoletto and its characters’ development.

Verdi’s Rigoletto is considered to be one of the mighty classics of the operatic repertoire, a must-sing for every lyric tenor as well, as a tour de force of vocal and interpretative intelligence for the skilled high baritone. In other words, Rigoletto is therefore entitled to be regarded as one of the classics, and by classic one means that which is already granted a position of the highest importance when it comes to individual cultural identity and taste. As a classic, then, Rigoletto is bound to be restricted to a specific time and place in history, and so it has been the norm for it to follow a specific itinerary when it comes to interpretation. Enter now the time for a subversive hypothesis, which needs to have as its groundwork the words of Verdi himself appearing in Charles Osborne’s resourceful, eponymous study, Rigoletto :

Let me say I have had very little time to examine the new libretto. I have seen enough, however, to know that in its present form it lacks character, significance, and, in short, the dramatic moments. Leave one completely cold. […] Without this curse, what scope or significance does the drama have? The Duke has no character. The Duke must definitely be a libertine: without this, there is no justification for Triboletto’s fear (aka Rigoletto’s) fear that his daughter might leave her hiding-place, and the drama is made impossible. What would the Duke be doing in the last act, alone in a remote inn, without an invitation, a rendezvous? I don’t understand why the sack has gone. Why should a sack matter to the police? Are they worried about the effect? But let me say this: why do they think they know better than I do about this? Who is playing the maestro? Who can say this will make an effect and that won’t? […] With that sack removed, it is removed it is improbable that Triboletto would talk for half an hour to a corpse, before a flash of lightning reveals it to be his daughter. Finally, I see that they have avoided making Triboletto an ugly hunchback!! A hunchback who sings? Why not? Will it be effective? I don’t know. But, I repeat, if I don’t know, then they who propose this change don’t know either. I thought it would be beautiful to portray this extremely deformed and ridiculous character who is inwardly passionate and full of love. I chose the subject precisely because of these qualities and these original traits, and if they are cut I shall no longer be able to set it to music. If anyone says to me I can leave my notes as they are for this new plot, I reply that I don’t understand this kind of thinking, and I say frankly that my music, whether beautiful or ugly is never written in a vacuum, and that I always try to give it character. (20-22)

These words encapsulate Verdi’s approach towards censorship[5] caused in his attempt to musically adapt Victor Hugo’s play Le Roi s’amuse (1832) starting in 1844 and finally composing it in 1851. Fransesco Maria Piave’s initial thoughts for the libretto of the opera were unacceptable to the Austrian[6] authorities of the time, since it would have been impossible for a play, and what is more, an opera to mirror the debauchery of monarchy without having to face the repercussions of such actions. This forced Piave to change the libretto several times until it reached its final form by thus changing the time, the place and, most important of all, the characters of the opera. These changes took place under the “guidance” of the Austrian[7] authorities in order for the opera to finally become appropriate for audiences. However, these changes were done with such intelligence and shrewdness that Verdi’s initial artistic intentions and spirit were not at all altered.

As a result, censorship was unable to sustain the creative force of Verdi’s artistry since it ought to have taken more than a sheer changing of names, characters and place so as to mute his productive voice. Once again, Charles Osborne has a lot to offer through his immensely informative study on Rigoletto :

The censor agreed to these suggestions and the names of the characters were changed to those by which we know them today. Francis I, King of France became the Duke of Mantua. Although he was not named more exactly, he was understood to be the infamous Vincenzo Gonzaga. (As Piave said to Verdi, ‘By now, everyone knows who was ruling at that time.’)Verdi and Piave may have been aware that a French play, Rigoletti, ou le dermier des fous, had been produced in Paris in 1835, or that there was a character called Rigolette in Les Mysteres de Paris (1842). Whether they were or not, their Triboulet (Triboletto) became Rigoletto, from the French rigoler, to guffaw, and the opera now took its title from him. Verdi proceeded to complete his score. He is said to have written Rigoletto in forty days, but the opera had been in his head for several months and parts of the nusic had already been written down. (24)

Such is the story of Rigoletto ’s conception along with the dire circumstances that were forced upon it and Verdi by the censors. When the opera premiered in 1851 in Teatro la Fenice in Venice, it became one more Verdian success. Even Maestro Verdi himself, who was one of the most eloquently strict and caustic critics, no matter whether his criticism was directed to others or himself, applauded his own work and even considered it his very best, although he was not particularly fond of his leading singer, Felice Varesi (1813-1889), who created the titular role:

[…]Signor Verdi, normally the most gloomily self-critical of composers, thought it his best opera: he expressed this opinion in a letter to a friend four years after the premiere. He also thought it ‘revolutionary,’ and the ‘best subject as regards theatrical effect that I’ve ever set to music.’ To his first Rigoletto, Felice Varesi, he said that he never to do better than the quartet. (Osborne 27)

Verdi was an extremely impartial and deictic critic when it came to the interpretation of his works and this was crushingly enforced upon the singers he chose to select for his premieres. He was a demanding perfectionist, an artistic autocrat when it came to matters of preparations, rehearsals and interpretation on behalf of the singer-actor along with the conductor of the operatic score. Although being a tremendous success, Rigoletto was admired by audiences and not by its critics. When Rigoletto was premiered in Venice, the reporter of the Gazzetta di Venezia wrote:

An opera like this cannot be judged by after one evening. Yesterday we were, so to speak, overwhelmed by the novelty of it all-the novelty, or rather the strangeness of the subject, the novelty of the music, the style, the very form of the numbers.[…] The composer and the poet […]have searched for their ideal beauty in the horrible, the deformed. To achieve their effects they have had recourse not to the usual emotions of passion and terror but to those of anguish and terror. Frankly we cannot praise their taste in these matters. Despite all this, however, the opera had the most complete success, and the composer was acclaimed, applauded and called for after almost every number, two of which had to be repeated. And, to be truthful, the orchestration is admirable, marvelous; this orchestra speaks and weeps with you, and arouses your every passion. […] Less admirable, however is the writing for the voice. Notably as regards the lack of important concerted numbers, this departs from the current style. One quartet and a trio near the end, in which it is difficult to grasp completely the musical thought, and that is all. (Osborne 26)


[1] “Oh! Do not speak to the wretched! Right after Rigoletto’s Pari Siamo (=We are alike)

[2] See Vol. 2

[3] “Oh! Guard,woman!”

[4] Gilda’s equivalent in V. Hugo’s play, Triboulet’s daughter.

See: Hugo, Victor. The King Amuses Himself. Three Plays by Victor Hugo. Ed. Helen A. Gaubert. Washington: Washington Square P. 1964

[5] See David A. J. Richards, Tragic Manhood and Democracy; Verdi’s Voice and the Powers of Musical Art (Brighton: Sussex Academic Press, 2004) pp. 79 – 89.

[6] In George Martin’s Aspects of Verdi, one reads, regarding the socio-political context of Verdi’s artistic existence that,

With Verdi the era was the Risorgimento, a period in Italian political and social history that roughly spans the nineteenth century. At its start Italy, in a phrase of the day of the day, was only a ‘a geographical expression,’ for the Po valley, peninsula, and islands were divided into more than ten political units, none of them powerful, most of them dominated by foreign powers. At the Risorgimento’s end these states were united in a kingdom of Italy, moderately powerful, truly independent, and with its capital at Rome. Socially, too, the people were beginning to feel themselves a nation: what divided them was less important than what they had in common. In place of French, German, Latin, or local dialect, Italian increasingly was spoken, and in place of distinct Neapolitan, Venetian, or Roman cultures, one more generally called Italian emerging. Verdi was the greatest artist of this movement. Throughout his work its values, its issues recur constantly, and he expressed them with great power. In a country divided by local dialects, customs, and governments his music provided a bond for all sorts of men and women. In his person – starting life humbly, living it honestly, even nobly – he became for many a symbol of what was best in the period. If he and his art were partly shaped by the Risorgimento, they also in part shaped it. (3)

[7] For the sake of further enlightenment regarding the political context of the time, once again, George Martin provides invaluable information:

With the fall of Rome in July 1849 to the pope and his Frenc alies, and of Venice in Augut to the Austrians, the Italian revolutions of 1848 came to an end, leaving many in Italy to rage like Verdi: ‘Let us not talk of Rome! What would be the use! Force once again rules the world! And justice? What use is it again bayonets!! The only achievement, which at the time, neither Verdi nor many others recognized, was in the kingdom of Sardinia. There the House of Savoy, now led by twenty-nine-year-old Vittorio Emanuele II, had granted a constitution and, despite Austrian pressure, refused to retract it. Everywhere else Austria or its autocratic alies had regained control, and their governments became steadily more repressive, for they soon discovered that any concession led to demands for greater freedom and self-government. [...] (16)

Further down, one reads:

What Verdi brought from the past to his work in this decade, chiefly Rigoletto, La Traviata, and Il Trovatore, was the quintessence of the Risorgimento, its quality of feeling and its point of view. These by now were deep in Verdi’s soul – he was thirty-seven in 1850 – and remained part of his character until he died. As with most men, his attitudes were formed in the years before forty. (17)

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American landscapes in european opera, Guiseppe Verdi's Rigoletto paradigm
Aristotle University of Thessaloniki  (School of English - Department of American Literature and Culture)
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Dionysis Tzevelekos (Author), 2008, American landscapes in european opera, Guiseppe Verdi's Rigoletto paradigm, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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