Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Young and the Opinionated - Paul's 2¢

Paul Just
Tenor and Writer
Giuseppe Verdi is considered a titan among opera composers. He is revered, venerated, and loved by so many because his music is drama and his drama is music. His creations, certainly from his middle and later periods, are of such astounding craftsmanship that it is difficult to choose a favorite, that is if someone is inclined to do so. I am so inclined. For this author and my questionably humble opinion, Verdi's middle period opera, Rigoletto, remains his finest creation.

I would like to preface that I have not always been solidly entrenched in the Verdi fan camp. In fact, it took me quite some time to warm up to a composer whose music I did not fully appreciate because I did not fully understand it. Nothing penned by this musical genius truly captured my imagination. I just never felt that incredible fish hook into my soul. That is, until I pulled a recording of Verdi's jester out of the library. All it took was one listen of the dark-as-night prelude and I was spellbound.

From the outset, the narrative arc reads like a modern-day movie: sex, love, revenge, assassination. It has all the hallmarks of an Oscar-winning drama. However, as a mid-nineteenth century musical melodrama, it had the power of the censors brought down on it, much like the films of Hollywood in the 1930s. Unfortunately, the way that Verdi had originally intended it (the aristocrat and the location had to be changed) was highly unacceptable and he was forced to modify elements of the story in order for the opera to make its way to the stage. When the opera finally did arrive in Venice in 1851, it was a consummate and unmitigated success. Its' success still holds true to this day, as Rigoletto remains one of the most popular and oft-performed operas in the canon. The reason for its incredible success as a music drama, a term usually reserved for Wagner's musical-dramatic productions, is that Verdi took a convoluted French story, courtesy of Victor Hugo, and made a real, human drama that one can so readily feel and become involved in. Verdi's musical narrative is so diabolically visceral that once the chords of the prelude commence, there is no turning back.

The very tenebrous opening notes launch the helpless listener into a vacuum of hopelessness for what seems an eternity of two minutes and then, WHAM, you are thrown into an aristocratic orgy of the basest nature. This is merely the first fifteen minutes of a theatrical masterpiece that without question trumps Violetta Valery's indecisiveness in love in La Traviata, the intense posturing of Alvaro and Carlo in La forza del destino, the fiery incredulity of Princess Eboli in Don Carlo, and the bleak drama and effervescent humour of Otello and Falstaff.

Since the time that I first fully grasped and understood the gravitas of Verdi's incomparable Rigoletto, his other operas, such as Macbeth, Il trovatore and Simon Boccanegra have chiseled their way into my now-Verdi-adoring bosom. Even some of the “galley years” operas, such as Ernani and Giovanna D'Arco deserve attention that they are so often disallowed. However, as magnificent as Verdi's later output might be, his auspicious beginning with Rigoletto, sealed his legacy as one of opera compositions shining beacons.

Some will say that opera is irrelevant and a defunct art form. Those who have never seen an opera will categorically state that it is only for the overeducated, liberal elite. I would challenge said irrational conjectures by giving them my favorite recording of this opera (Merrill/Bjoerling), a synopsis of the plot, a bottle of wine, and a box of tissues.
~ Paul Just, Tenor and Writer

Editor's Note: Paul Just is a young and talented Tenor based out of Vancouver, BC. He has performed with Vancouver Concert Opera Society twice in the past year; Le Remendado in our inaugural concert production of Bizet's Carmen and as part of the Trio in our Award Winning Production of Leonard Bernstein's Trouble In Tahiti (We featured his "amazing socks" on our blog more than a few times). What we did not know, until recently, is that Paul is a not only a gifted singer, but a talented writer with some very strong and educated opinions. We trust you have enjoyed "Paul's 2¢" and we look forward to more interesting posts from him in the future!

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