Friday, January 03, 2014

A night at the Opera

As any aficionado of Opera knows, this year is the 200th anniversary of Giuseppi Verdi's birth (1813-1901). To celebrate it the Shearim Organization sponsored a concert at Congregation Beth Israel in Netanya commemorating his contributions. This was co-sponsored by the Ministry of Immigration and Absorption, and featured mainly performers from the former Soviet Union.

The program was introduced and narrated in three languages, Russian, Hebrew and English (also some French). The five singers sang a selection of Verdi arias and then the program focused on "Rigoletto" (1851) and "La Traviata" (1853), maybe his two most famous operas. The hall was crowded and the need to translate every item into three languages caused delays and sometimes confusion, and took too much time. But, the singing was excellent and the arias and duets were beautifully executed. Don Corleone and his family would have been proud. It was certainly a bit incongruous having the introductions in Russian, Hebrew and English and the lyrics in Italian.

Little is known of Verdi's childhood, there is some mystery about him. He appears to have arrived on the scene without any evidence of his schooling. There is a possibility that his birth certificate was forged (there are two versions, one in Italian saying he was born "yesterday" and another in French because the region was controlled by the French at that time). There is a rumor that he was the child of an itinerant Jewish fiddler who left him with the childless innkeepers named Verdi because he could not care for him. This is cited as the reason for Verdi's sympathy for the Jews, as in his first Opera "Nabucco" and in "Aida," for instance the song of the Hebrew slaves. But, another explanation is that Verdi was an Italian nationalist who used the desire for nationhood of the Hebrews as a means of evading the prevalent censors regarding the same desire of the Italians. Whatever the background there is no doubt that Verdi's 29 operas make him a genius for the ages.


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