As I wrote in my November 26, 2020 post, I like to use this blog as a record of year-long “projects,” often beginning on the first Sunday of Advent. A composer about whom I’ve always felt curious is Verdi. When I began in parish ministry in the early 1980s, in a very rural area of southeastern Illinois, I liked to listen to classical music and opera at my lonesome little parsonage. Anytime I listen to an opera, something in me connects back to that time when I was starting out in ministry.
So I decided to purchase the 2013 75-CD set of Verdi’s operas (and additional music), which I’ll listen to during the upcoming year. For reference I’ll study Charles Osborne, The Complete Operas of Verdi (New York: Knopf, 1979).
I listened to Verdi’s first opera a few weeks ago. Oberto, Conte di San Bonifacio premiered at La Scala in November 1839, when Verdi was 26. It was well enough received that the Scala impresario placed Verdi under contract for three additional operas. Set in 1228 in Northern Italy, the story concerns Count Oberto, who has lost a battle with the Salinguerra, led by Ezzelino da Romano. Consequently, Oberto is in retreat in Mantua. Meanwhile, Oberto’s daughter Leonora has been seduced and abandoned by the Count of Salinguerra, Riccardo, who is anyway about to marry the sister of Ezzelino, Cuniza. Leonora aimed to contront Riccardo on his wedding day. , led by Ezzelino da Romano. Oberto has lost and has retreated to Mantua. Meanwhile, his daughter Leonora has been seduced and abandoned by Riccardo, Count of Salinguerra, and Riccardo is about to marry Cuniza, Ezzelino's sister. Leonora makes her way to Bassano on Riccardo's wedding day, intent on confronting him. The two-act story ends with Oberto killed by Riccardo, who in remorse flees Italy but bequeaths his property to the sorrowful Leonora.
I enjoyed listening to it! Osborne comments that although it is certainly not among Verdi’s great operas, it is a good beginning to the composer’s long career. Even with an unsatisfactory libretto, Verdi had excellent instincts from the start: how to set a story with economy and memorable music.
Osborne notes that Verdi wrote a previous opera, Rocester. That opera was completed in 1836 but was never performed and apparently no longer exists. Rocester is not the character in the novel Jane Eyre, which wasn’t published until 1847, but details about the opera are now few. Verdi may have used some of its music in Oberto.