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Giuseppe Verdi: Nabucodonosor

Commento Critico Italiano

COMPOSER: Giuseppe Verdi
PUBLISHER: Ricordi
PRODUCT FORMAT: Book
At first glance, Nabucodonosor might seem to be one of Verdi’s least suited works to take advantage of a scientific critical edition. Verdi did not make substantial changes after composing it and therefore it does not pose problems similar to those of Don Carlos, Simon Boccanegra or some other
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Specifications
Composer Giuseppe Verdi
Editor R. Parker
Publisher Ricordi
Product Format Book
Description Product Type Book [Binded]
Genre Critical Commentary
Year of Publication 1988
ISBN 9788875928391
No. NR 13456900
Series UMPC Critical Editions
Description
At first glance, Nabucodonosor might seem to be one of Verdi’s least suited works to take advantage of a scientific critical edition. Verdi did not make substantial changes after composing it and therefore it does not pose problems similar to those of Don Carlos, Simon Boccanegra or some other works: problems relating to the establishment of a fundamental text of the opera, or to the decision on which particular version should be used. None of Verdi’s revisions of the Nabucco create major alterations to the dramatic rhythm; there are no particular textual problems either. With one exception (Fenena’s new romanza, which Verdi wrote for Venice in 1842), every significant musical source for Nabucco can be found in the composer’s autographed score.
The discomfort with a modern critical version of Nabucco probably has deeper causes. In fact, Nabucco is a work of elementary, immediate power; a work whose success is not determined (or on the contrary jeopardized) by the elegance of small details, but by the general parable of drama and music; and, more importantly, that success has been fueled and sustained by an extraordinary accumulation of extra-musical meanings.
The difficulties begin before a single note of the work is considered. To establish the authenticity and chronological order of Verdi’s sources, we can generally count on a good amount of documentary evidence. But, as everyone knows, Verdi won general attention for the first time with Nabucco; during his composition he remained a shadowy figure, neglected by the Milanese cultural élite, and especially in contact with his friends from Busseto. Even taking this situation for granted, the lack of first-hand documentation is surprising. This is not only due to Verdi’s relative isolation. We must bear in mind that he worked with a largely definitive libretto (Nabucco was originally written for the young Prussian composer Otto Nicolai) and that his librettist, Temistocle Solera, was in Milan, close at hand, so no correspondence was needed if last-minute changes were required. In addition to all this, Solera’s notoriously cluttered lifestyle meant that no trace of his working copy of the libretto has survived. We are therefore forced to have to depend on second-hand evidence of the events, which does not happen for any subsequent Verdi’s opera.
Regarding the differences between the new critical edition and the previous printed editions of the Nabucco score, the most consistent and radical lies in the ligatures and in the performance details. Verdi, who composed when there was a perfect understanding of contemporary style, was often very brief in the use of interpretative prescriptions: he could rely on the ability of performers and copyists to deduce his intentions from the music itself. In some cases, for example with regard to dynamic indications, it is generally quite easy for modern editors to arrive at a satisfactory solution (although the listener of the new critical edition will find some surprising differences compared to the traditional version). The case of contradictory vocal and instrumental slurs is far more complex, since in this case we are dealing with an area in which our perception of what is “musical” can lead us to give preference to certain slurs rather than to others. The Ricordi performing score, which was prepared immediately after the Second World War, is in this context an “interpretation” rather than an attempt to precisely grasp the meaning of Verdi’s slurs. Verdi’s instrumental and vocal slurs are in fact systematically lengthened and new slurs – not present in the autograph – are often added. The implicit effect is to encourage a much softer and more tied playing style than that suggested by Verdi.
It is not necessary to venture into analytical complexities to justify the importance of such moments, and to defend the position of the edition in maintaining Verdi’s indications. Its justification consists in the possibility of seeing (and hopefully hearing) Nabucco without its supposed cloak of performance prescriptions dating back to the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The critical edition therefore stands as a work of recovery aimed at giving interpreters, scholars, and listeners the opportunity to judge Verdi on the basis of his most important legacy. The critical edition does not try to stop the reinterpretation process that leads the music to adapt to the needs of each era; it only tries to demonstrate where it started from: from the notes and signs that Verdi wrote when he composed his first great opera.
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