Verdi's Gift: Wringing Catchy Music From Touchy Subjects

Play associated audio

Two hundred years ago this week, Giuseppe Verdi was born in an Italian town midway between Bologna and Milan. On the occasion of his bicentennial, All Things Considered wanted to know what makes the great opera composer so enduring — why his work is still so frequently discussed and performed these two centuries later. The answer, says conductor and arranger John Mauceri, is that Verdi had a knack for making thorny topics accessible.

"One of the incredible achievements that he had, besides the fact that he wrote 30 operas — which makes his input into the repertory huge — was that he had this ability to create popular music dramas that are actually about something," Mauceri says. "There's this kind of earworm music, where you get these tunes that you just know from the day you're born, seemingly. And yet, when you see the operas, you realize that they're actually about important subjects, which are just as important today."

Those subjects include the sexual politics at the center of La Traviata, the themes of race and imperialism explored in Aida, and other topics provocative enough in Verdi's day to inspire vitriolic reviews — and the occasional protest.

John Mauceri spoke with host Robert Siegel about how Verdi's button-pushing tendency turned into a lasting legacy. Hear more of their conversation at the audio link.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

#FoodPorn, Circa 1600s: Then And Now, It Was More About Status Than Appetite

A new study of old masters finds that capturing and showing off decadent and expensive meals is a decidedly old-fashioned practice. Like today's Instagrammers, it was all about projecting an image.
NPR

#FoodPorn, Circa 1600s: Then And Now, It Was More About Status Than Appetite

A new study of old masters finds that capturing and showing off decadent and expensive meals is a decidedly old-fashioned practice. Like today's Instagrammers, it was all about projecting an image.
WAMU 88.5

Virginia's Own Tim Kaine Takes The Democratic Veepstakes

We consider Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine's regional ties and the pros and cons of his vice presidential candidacy as the DNC gets underway.

NPR

Verizon Buys Yahoo For $4.8 Billion In Cash, Touting Gains In Mobile

The deal comes more than a year after Verizon paid $4.4 billion to acquire AOL; as part of Verizon, Yahoo will join the same division AOL currently occupies.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.