Giuseppe Verdi

Born - Oct 10, 1813   |   Died - Jan 27, 1901   |   Genres - Music, Theater

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Biography by "Blue" Gene Tyranny

The deeply moving, character-filled, atmospherically rich music of this prolific Italian composer has been quoted in at least 206 feature films. Almost all of his most beloved operas have received several full television and film productions: Un ballo in maschera (A Masked Ball), Falstaff, Otello, Il trovatore, La traviata, Rigoletto, Macbeth, Don Carlos, Aida, La forza del destino, Attila, Giovanna d'Arco, Luisa Miller, Nabucco, Ernani, and Simon Boccanegra. As early as 1909, excerpts from Rigoletto were realized in D.W. Griffith's A Fool's Revenge, and parts of Aida were used in two films of that same name made in 1911. Productions of Un ballo in maschera and Falstaff were made for television in 2001.

Verdi's powerfully gripping Requiem has been excerpted in To Kill a Priest (1988), Den Enfaldige mördaren (The Simple-Minded Murderer, 1982), and a full performance was realized in Giuseppe Verdi: Messa di Requiem (1967). For Luchino Visconti's Il Gattopardo (The Leopard, 1963), composer Nino Rota orchestrated Verdi's Valzer in fa maggiore (Waltz in F Major), originally written "per cembalo" when the composer was in his youth, judging from the simplicity of the elements in the piece. The Valzer was discovered by Rota in the possession of a Roman antiquarian, and was orchestrated for strings, flutes, and piano for the film soundtrack.

A brief excerpt from a Verdi aria is played on a wheezy church organ as the returning Prince Salina (Burt Lancaster) enters with his entourage. The Valser begins on a shot of farmers working on a hillside and follows the cross-fade into a large ballroom. The guests are greeted at a reception line, people gossip, ladies fan themselves (the Sicilian night is very hot), Colonel Pallipacini and his officers are introduced to the notables. The music flows from the balconies into a garden where the Colonel, surrounded by admiring women hanging on his every word, speaks of Garibaldi as looking like an archangel: "I wept like a little baby." Verdi's waltz cadences at the end of the Colonel's exaggerated speech, and another waltz with lovely romantic harmonies in the style of the period by Nino Rota, begin as the scene shifts back into the ballroom. This piece is followed by a wonderful folk-style mazurka in a minor key. In several more scenes, the Prince suggests that he will be dying soon, and blesses the marriage of his nephew Don Trancredi (Alain Delon) and Angelica (Claudia Cardinale). Angelica asks the Prince to dance with her and back in the ballroom the Verdi waltz is struck up once again. Everyone looks on and the Prince and Angelica glide gently across the room. In the following scenes, contrast is continually made between the happy music and the self-congratulatory speeches of the military men and their ideas for maintaining order in the newly unified Italy.

Two biopics on Verdi's life have been made: Giuseppe Verdi (1935), released as The Life of Giuseppe Verdi in the U.S. in 1940, and Giuseppe Verdi (1953), released as The Life and Music of Giuseppe Verdi in the U.S. in 1957. Aspects of the composer's lifelong association with his publishing house are covered in Casa Ricordi (1954).