VERDI by Mary Jane Phillips-Matz


A Biography
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 This monument of research--a lifetime's labor of love--now becomes the standard scholarly biography of Giuseppe Verdi in English. For four decades, Phillips-Matz has immersed herself in the archives not only of the Verdi family but of parish churches, town halls, publishing companies, and opera houses throughout Europe. Her method is one of extensive factual presentation rather than portraiture, and the density of her research is likely to prove daunting to casual readers (for the nonspecialist, George Martin's Verdi, 1963, remains a first choice). Nonetheless, Phillips-Matz's fact-gathering allows intelligent readers to form their own views, and it clarifies the distortions Verdi himself created. Phillips- Matz makes a convincing case that Verdi's background and childhood weren't as obscure and poverty-stricken as he led his contemporaries to believe. In addition, although Phillips-Matz largely leaves musical and dramatic analysis of the operas to others, her investigation of Verdi's relationships--with his family, his first wife (who died, as did their two children, while Verdi was still young), and the woman with whom he lived openly for a number of years before she became his second wife--will ring bells for those familiar with the family complications that fill the plots of Verdi's operas. The author is also first-rate at explicating the sources of the composer's anticlericalism and fierce patriotism to a united Italy. Readers of the magazine Opera are already familiar with the controversy that Phillips-Matz has engendered by suggesting that a baby girl named ``Santa Streppini,'' who was abandoned to be raised by nuns in Cremona, may have been Verdi's illegitimate daughter. Her argument is not unconvincing on the facts but is less convincing as a matter of human nature given the ``Bear of Busseto's'' well-documented scorn for public opinion. To a shelf of CDs and Julian Budden's magisterial three-volume musico-dramatic analysis of the operas, the complete Verdian now must add this book. (Illustrations)

Pub Date: Oct. 7th, 1993
ISBN: 0-19-313204-4
Page count: 944pp
Publisher: Oxford Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 1993


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