VERDI: A Life in the Theatre by Charles Osborne

VERDI: A Life in the Theatre

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Osborne, whose books on the arts have ranged from agreeably lightweight (The Complete Operas of Verdi to iffy (The Complete Operas of Puccini) to wittily opinionated (Wagner and His World), now oilers a blandly competent biography of Italy's beloved genius--who comes to life only in the long excerpts-from-letters that dominate the text. Following the composer from humble provincial beginnings to hard-won early success (Nabucco), from embittering disappointments (the first-night fiasco of La Traviata) to cresting popularity and prestige, Osborne finds little shape or focus in the rich documentary material available--except that his choice of excerpts tends to stress Verdi's cantankerous, ""hyper-sensitive,"" rigidly opinionated reactions to the behaviour of librettists, singers, conductors, publishers, and theater managers. (Unlike Julian Budden and others, Osborne rarely considers what might have been going on behind the grumblings and posturings.) Apart from a simplistic reference to Verdi having ""his fair share of the artist's schizophrenia"" (commonsensical vs. melancholic), there's no delving into personality or psychology here. His relationships--with wife/soulmate Giuseppina, with flirtatious singer Teresa Stolz (Osborne doubts that a real affair occurred), with Boito and other collaborators--remain oddly uninvolving, dutifully chronicled yet under-dramatized. And, with only a lackluster paragraph or two on the music of each opera, Verdi's creative achievement never seems to take its appropriate place center-stage. With Verdi's own colorful words on almost every page, framed by Osborne's crisp, rather flavorless narrative, this medium-sized chronicle is sturdily informative and decently readable. Opera fans and Verdi-lovers of all kinds, however, will do better elsewhere: William Weaver's Verdi: A Documentary Study provides the letters, and more, in fuller versions; Frank Walker's The Man Verdi, though slightly out-of-date, investigates Verdi's relationships in intense, fascinating detail; and Julian Budden's Verdi volume in the Master Musicians series is by far the best one-volume book for non-scholars--with a taut, stylish 160-page biography followed by nearly 200 pages of musico-dramatic analysis, sometimes technical yet always lucid and eloquent.

Pub Date: Jan. 11th, 1987
Publisher: Knopf