PRIN - How They Used to Sing Verdi / Come si cantava Verdi

PRIN 2020 - Principal Investigator: Marco Beghelli

In recent years, the performance of operas of the great nineteenth-century melodramatic tradition has been the subject of conflicting attitudes: on the one hand, the rigorous respect for the musical text written by the author; on the other hand, the adherence to a twentieth-century performance practice that from that text departs, with deletions and additions. The execution “to the letter” is the result of philological requests to safeguard the increasingly widespread critical editions of opera texts; the execution “with creative licences” refers to uninterrupted oral traditions grown on the field, in daily theatrical practice. The proponents of the first tendency (especially among musicologists and some more rigorous conductors) are opposed to the proponents of the second one (mostly the singers, but also the public), with few opportunities for dialogue.

A less dualistic look at the problem reveals, however, that many practices handed down by the most trite tradition are nothing more than the residue of ancient performance practices, themselves the object of study and veneration on the part of musicologists and performers as far as eras prior to musical Romanticism are concerned, and yet branded as “bad taste” by performers when we enter the era in which the cult of the author and the absolutization of the text take over.

The nineteenth-century performances of the operas by Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901) propose themselves as a particularly interesting case study: on the one hand, we know that interventions on the text were widely practiced; on the other, Verdi himself repeatedly declared to be contrary to current executive practice and his words are now used as an aesthetic support by the proponents of a performance faithful to the written text.

What both parties still seem to ignore is a series of documents that show Verdi much closer to contemporary executive practice than the handful of his statements on a theoretical level would suggest.

The doubt then arises as to how the concept of “fidelity to the text” should be interpreted for Verdi and his performers: that is, what was for them the discriminating limit between “faithful” and “unfaithful”, and what it is for us today (with the risk of over-interpreting Verdi’s intentions).

The project therefore includes the following phases:

- identify all Verdi’s statement on the aesthetics of musical performance;

- gathering as many sources as possible on how his works were actually performed in the 19th century;

- provide useful tools to modern performers for a “conscious” and “historically informed” performance of Verdi’s and his time operas.


Research partnership

Università di Bologna: Marco Beghelli (Principal Investigator), Saverio Lamacchia

Università di Ferrara: Alessandro Roccatagliati (Local coordinator)