Fifteen Eighty Four

Academic perspectives from Cambridge University Press


Celebrating 200 Years of Verdi

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Overture” from La forza del destino

This famous “Fate” motif opens Verdi’s 1862 opera La forza del destino. It is one of the most widely performed and recognized pieces of operatic music.


O patria mia” (“Oh, my dear country!”) from Aida

One of Verdi’s most famous operas tells the story of the Ethiopian princess Aida, who has been enslaved by the Egyptians. In this romanza, she sings of her love for the Egyptian commander Radames and her fear that he will bid her farewell. She imagines drowning herself in the Nile and never returning to her beloved homeland.


Va, pensiero” (“Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves”) from Nabucco

Verdi’s third opera follows the Book of Jeremiah in recounting the struggles of the Jews after their exile from the Holy Land. This inno is sung as the Hebrews lament their exile by the Babylonian king Nabucco. This extremely popular song was adopted as a national hymn symbolizing Italian identity, so that even the Mussolini regime trumpeted Verdi as patriotic.


Ah, fors’è lui…Sempre libera” (“Ah, perhaps he is the one…Always free”) from La traviata

La traviata (The Strayed Woman) is based on Alexandre Dumas’ novel Camille, a love story between a consumptive “kept” woman and a young man. In her aria, the heroine Violetta expresses her loneliness and confusion after her admirer Alfredo professes his love.


Parli, siam soli” (“Speak, we are alone”) from Rigoletto

Rigoletto tells the story of the hunch-backed jester to the Duke of Mantua. When the title character recovers his beautiful daughter Gilda from the seduction of the Duke, they share this mournful duet.


Stride la vampa” (“The flames roar”) from Il trovatore

This dramatic canzone from Il trovatore (The Troubador) is sung by Azucena, the angry daughter of a gypsy burned at the stake who promises to avenge her mother’s death. The song becomes a recurring theme throughout Azucena’s narrative.


Sì, pel ciel marmoreo giuro!” (“Yes, by the marble heavens I swear”) from Otello

For his penultimate opera, Verdi adapted Shakespeare’s classic tragedy Othello. In this giuramento at the end of Act II, Otello swears vengeance on his wife Desdemona and her alleged lover Cassio. His malicious ensign Iago pledges to aid the jealous Otello.


È sogno o realtà?” (“Is it a dream or reality?”) from Falstaff

Verdi’s final opera is a comedy adapted from Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor and Henry IV. When Ford, the man whose daughters Falstaff pursues, suspects his wife of infidelity, he reflects on marriage and jealousy in this song.


Our explanations of each song are adapted from The Cambridge Verdi Encyclopedia (available December 2013)

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