The second thrilling volume of Sir Edward Downes’s unique edition of the complete preludes, overtures and ballet music of Verdi.
As this second volume shows, Verdi’s melodic inspiration is seemingly inexhaustible. Equally striking, though, is the vitality of the writing - particularly in the vivacious ballet music - and the individual colours which he achieves with the orchestra.
Like all nineteenth-century operatic composers, it was Paris where Verdi sought success. Composers were forced to obey the Opéra’s iron-clad rules, one of which was that a ballet had to appear during the second half of an opera. This was because the Jockey Club, then a powerful force in operatic life, insisted that ballet be included as a means of ogling dancers and selecting their next mistresses! Though the ballet was rarely essential from a dramatic point of view - and Verdi resented having to write them - composers became adept at including them within the scheme of their operas. The ballet music for Il trovatore (which heavily draws on the Anvil Chorus’ theme) and Jerusalem show Verdi’s skill in this genre: it is brilliantly witty and stylish music, exhilarating in impetus, leaving one wishing that he had written mcuh more for this art form. The short Rigoletto prelude, with its opening ’curse’ motif, sets the ghostly scene for the baroque horror which follows, whilst Stiffelio gets a fully fledged overture. Luisa Miller finds Verdi on excellent form, with a dramatic piece of music, tautly constructed and brilliantly orchestrated.