Discovery Corner: I Lombardi / Happy Birthday Verdi!
During a recent rabbit hole excursion via an introduction to Ezio Pinza, I found this recording of a really remarkable trio from I Lombardi. I've cross checked* whether other versions of this trio are similar, but there is some pretty striking violin work underscoring the tenor line, especially in the beginning.
I Lombardi (fully I Lombardi alla prima crociata, the Lombards of the First Crusade) premiered in 1843, which seems to be described as Verdi’s warming up period after Nabucco and after getting over the death of his first wife. I don’t know why it’s not as popular (perhaps other parts aren’t as good?), but I’m struck by this use of the violin — I don’t think I’ve heard anything like it. You do hear a lot of pretty solos from various instruments (do you? at least I think you do) in opera but something so different from the other things going on, happening simultaneously as someone is singing that is really different from what they are singing — how often does that happen? It reminds me of another one of my favorite 'magic' moments, the cello solo in Zerlina's 'Batti Batti o Bel Masetto' in Don Giovanni. It feels like a really interesting dramatic choice, like we can hear the conflicted thoughts or troubled thoughts of the person singing, articulated by the violin. I am sure I am wrong, but I can't think of another piece that has this specific feeling, this specific special magic. I’ll think on it.
I thought it great that today, October 10th, on his 204th (!) birthday, I realized Verdi could still surprise me. I am not a musicologist, nor do I presume to call myself a Verdi expert -- I'm just a fan. And I think it's that -- that as a person who just likes his music and listens to it often and has heard a good amount of it -- that this little detail out of nowhere made my ears perk up and my hair stand on end. It's just such a great example of why we love the things we love, why we keep returning to them to find new experiences, even on the 1,000th listen.
I think every piece of music that is special to someone has some section, some moment of magic where you get that feeling. For me, 'Potato Head Blues' has the moment Louis Armstrong comes in; 'Un dame de haut parage' from Rossini's opera Le comte Ory has those four descending octaves around three and a half minutes in (a nice example here -- it gears up at 39:40 and commences five seconds later -- for full effect start a minute or two before); and, of course, the searing second octave-jumped "as I did then" in the Platter's 'Twilight Time'. The violin in this recording (wrapped up with everything else everyone is doing, especially -- for me, a baritone / bass person -- Pinza's solid, rich ringing backbone to the trio) was a moment of magic for me today, a little birthday present from maestro Verdi from 174 years in the past!
* It is there (see this version with Pavarotti, Flanigan and Ramey) but the Gigli, Rethburg and Pinza recording (I'd argue) is strikingly more dramatic and effective.