THE OPERAS OF VERDI, VOL. 3: From Don Carlos to Falstaff by Julian Budden

THE OPERAS OF VERDI, VOL. 3: From Don Carlos to Falstaff

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A fine, stately work of musical scholarship comes to a close with this last volume in Budden's meticulous study of the Verdi canon--as hefty a book as its predecessors even though there are only four operas left to take up. But what a quartet! With no introduction (other than a preface noting updates on the data in Vols. 1 and 2), Budden dives right into the documentary labyrinth of Don Carlos--no less than five ""basic versions."" As usual with Budden, the history of the composition is first detailed; then the score is examined moment by moment, with generous musical examples but with the emphasis on dramatic values. So, for Don Carlos, there must be separate appraisals of each variation, with comparisons--a massive enterprise which Budden carries off with graceful orderliness. He also makes a persuasive case for presentation of the opera in the original French; he smartly defends the often-mocked Carlos/Posa duet and the Act III finale; he rises to modest eloquence for awesome Act IV (""The heavy acciaccatura sobs on horns, bassoons and strings convey that iron grief which lies at the heart not only of Philip but of the opera as a whole . . .""); and he acknowledges that ""the problem of scale . . . eluded Verdi"" in this sprawling yet penetrating opera. Aida is a simpler matter, of course: ""the only grand opera from which you cannot remove a single bar,"" the perfection of Italy's mid-century, French-influenced style. Budden is never uncritical, however, and even here he tempers admiration with comments on the ""residual brashness"" in the Act II finale or the character of Radames (""the eternal school captain""). Then: a brief essay to reflect the 16 years between Aida and Otello--a period during which the Wagner/Massenet influence spread and ""verismo"" was born; but Budden's point is that Verdi, while far from unaware, largely ignored the trends (except the general one of ""the ever-lengthening reach of operatic design"") when he created the seamless, daring masterworks Otello and Falstaff. ""Nowhere do we hear 'verismo' approaching in the distance; nowhere does the post-Wagnerian tide begin to encroach. The musical language of the time is stretched in a purely personal way . . . the synthesis remains as independent, sometimes as baffling in its modernity as that of a late Beethoven string quartet."" Budden does, however, note a few borrowings from Wagner--and throughout, as in previous volumes, he is strong on cross-references (to early Verdi works as well as to other composers). Again, too, he impressively keeps shifting the emphasis--from text to instrumentation to key relationships to melody, always with special interest in how the ""mechanical commonplaces"" of 1848 were gradually, steadily transformed into incomparable art: ""a miracle of regeneration difficult to parallel in the history of music."" For decades to come, then, anyone with a basic musical vocabulary (one need hardly be a scholar) will find terrific, illuminating pleasure in listening to Verdi with Budden as a companion. And for serious Students, of course, this elegant, self-effacing series is merely indispensable.

Pub Date: Sept. 24th, 1981
Publisher: Oxford Univ. Press