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(a) five roles for a Verdi Tenor

on this page:
Manrico
Gustavo
Don Carlo(s)
Radames
Otello

(b) five roles for a Verdi Baritone

on this page:
Nabucco
Macbeth
Rigoletto
Germont
Rodrigo


these lectures were originally given
as part of a series
for Sue Walsh’s
“CLASSI LECTURES”


(a) five roles for a Verdi Tenor

1 – MANRICO
in “IL TROVATORE”

This Castilian aristocrat is brought up to believe he is a Gypsy. He finds himself in a deadly love triangle, not realizing that his rival for the affections of Leonora is actually his long-lost brother, the Count de Luna.

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2 – GUSTAVO, King of Sweden,
in “Un BALLO in MASCHERA”.

Another deadly love triangle. The King is in love with the wife of his prime minister and best friend – whose jealousy eventually leads to the King’s assassination. There is another version in which the King becomes RICCARDO, Earl of Warwick, and Governor of colonial Massachusetts.

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3 – DON CARLO(s) – title role

Originally written into a five-act French text as a Grand Opera for Paris this masterpiece follows the fortunes of the Infante of Spain in the mid-16th century. Prince Carlos is betrothed to Elizabeth de Valois, the daughter of the King of France, but then his father, King Philip II decides to marry her himself. The resulting tripartite domestic tragedy plays out against the struggle of the protestant Spanish Netherlands to obtain freedom from the cruelty of the Spanish Inquisition.

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4 – RADAMES in “AIDA”

Radames is the General of the Egyptian forces leading the fight against an invasion from Ethiopia. He is loved by the Pharaoh’s daughter, but he, in turn, loves Aida, an Ethiopian slave. Yet another deadly tragic love triangle.

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5 – OTELLO – title role

This penultimate of Verdi’s operas is the Mount Everest of roles for an Italian tenore robusto. Based on Shakespeare’s “Othello, Moor of Venice” this multi-variate role demands power, stamina and an inner nobility that demonstrates “one who not lov’d wisely but too well”. The image in the accompanying VIMEO link is that of Francesco Tamagno, Verdi’s choice for the first “Otello” in 1887.

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(b) five roles for a Verdi Baritone

1 – NABUCCO:
the Babylonian king
with two problem daughters

Verdi’s third opera and first success (1842) was written for the Milanese baritone Giorgio Ronconi, and exploited his unusual strength and power at the top of his range. The role requires an actor who can be convincing as an imperious military conqueror, a domestically conflicted father and a penitent religious convert.

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2 – MACBETH:
the Scottish king
who murders his way to the top

Verdi’s tenth opera (1847) was commissioned by the Pergola theatre in Florence which was seeking a supernatural drama. Verdi accepted because the theatre had engaged a superstar French baritone, Felice Varesi, whose voice and acting ability were ideal for the title role. This was Verdi’s first operatic encounter with Shakespeare, although he had read him in print for many years. He would later go on to write an adaptation of “King Lear” (unfinished) and his final two great masterpieces “Otello” and “Falstaff”.

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3 – RIGOLETTO: the cursed court jester and malicious pimp who unwittingly engineers the murder of his own precious daughter

The success of Felice Varesi in the title role at the Fenice Theatre in Venice, in 1851, propelled Verdi from Italian to pan-European fame. The music is in many passages revolutionary and formed the starting point for Verdi’s series of truly great masterpieces over the next decades. Verdi’s assessment of his source, Victor Hugo’s “Le roi s’amuse” was: “The subject is grand and immense, and there is a character that is one of the greatest creations that the theatre can boast of, in any country and in all history.” That character became the vocally and dramatically challenging title role of his 16th opera.

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4 – GERMONT pere: the bourgeois upholder of conventional mid-19th century morality who comes to appreciate a courtesan’s inner nobility

“La traviata” immediately followed “Rigoletto” at La Fenice in 1852 and although not an initial success, has subsequently become the world’s most frequently performed opera. For many, the extended “father-daughter” duet between Violetta and Giorgio Germont, the father of her lover, Alfredo, is one of the greatest examples of psychologically insightful music in all opera. Germont pere must transition from a dismissive moralist – one primarily concerned with the morality of others – towards a more respectful, compassionate, empathetic, humanitarian level of understanding.

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5 – RODRIGO, Marquis of POSA: perhaps Verdi’s most noble creation – a man of selfless friendship and fearless love of freedom

“Don Carlos”, the five-act French grand opera written for Paris in 1867, may be Verdi’s greatest operatic achievement. Within this, the complex role of Rodrigo, Marquis of Posa is one of his most outstanding creations. Based on Friedrich Schiller’s fictional character at the court of Philip II of Spain, the role embodies an incandescent belief in liberty, a fearless opposition to oppression and a profound loyalty to his friend, the heir to the throne. These qualities, tragically, make him a target for elimination by the Spanish Inquisition.

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