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Subject: Mid-Week Opera Quiz Answer
From: Jane Bishop <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:[log in to unmask]
Date:Thu, 6 Mar 1997 16:50:40 -0400
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     My question was:
     What is the rationale for the order in which Verdi's operas
are listed below?
     The answer, as the six people who e-mailed either me or the
list correctly saw, is: CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER BY SUBJECT. "Aida" has
to be before 1200 B.C. since Egypt is strong and aggressive (though
after 1570 B.C. as it has a standing army), "Nabucco", the only
other one set B.C.E, is in 586 B.C. and after, and "La Traviata" is
contemporary. In between, some of the dates of the stories are
known exactly (if compressed: the exact day on which Pope Leo I
talked Attila the Hun out of sacking Rome and the day of Attila's
last wedding and death are both in 453 but not just a few days
apart as implied in the opera) and some I made up based on
internal evidence. Here is my order again, with one correction:
1. Aida
2. Nabucco                              15. Otello
3. Attila                               16. Ernani
4. Macbeth                              17. Rigoletto
5. I Lombardi and Jerusalem             18. Alzira
6. La Battaglia di Legnano              19. Don Carlos
7. Aroldo (phooey)                      20. Un Giorno di Regno
8. Oberto, Conte di San Bonifacio       21. La Forza del Destino
9. I Vespri Siciliani                   22. Stiffelio
10. Simon Boccanegra                    23. Luisa Miller
11. Falstaff                            24. I Masnadieri
12. Giovanna d'Arco                     25. Un Ballo in Maschera
13. I Due Foscari                       26. Il Corsaro
14. Il Trovatore                        27. La Traviata

     Would it have been more of a challenge if I had removed the
first and the last on the list? It is somewhat surprising that
"Il Corsaro" is NEXT to last in terms of settings, since it is
also the only one set in the comparatively exotic Muslim world,
but so it is: early 19th century, contemporary with its author
Lord Byron. I say "Phooey" about Aroldo because it claims to
be set around 1200, and that story-- about a married holy man
and a noble, self-sacrificing divorce-- has no BUSINESS around
1200. Mid-18th century where it started out, in "Stiffelio",
is where it belongs. "I Lombardi" and "Jerusalem", of course,
while somewhat different stories with vast common elements,
begin and end at EXACTLY the same moment, the call for and
the triumphant conclusion of the First Crusade.

     The people I thought might write in disputing my ordering
are apparently off list or not interested in this one. I put
"I Masnadieri" too early; it is surely after "Stiffelio",
*late* 18th century, contemporary with Schiller's writing it.
(Oh dear; unless he SET it earlier. I'm at the office and
can't check. Can't think of any anchoring references in it,
and my mental picture is of 1780s early-Romantic young men
behaving badly. I put "Luisa Miller" earlier because there
are references in the play to the feudal lord who's above
all the characters selling poor subjects to the army for
the American Revolution.)

     But I just thought it would be fun to put them in order
and see just how well you could trip through history with
only Verdi's operas as a guide. There are big gaps: all of
Greece, all Rome till its last days in the West, then another
big jump to the 11th century. Thereafter the later Middle Ages
are pretty well represented. There are some extraordinary
clusters: the first half of the 15th century has about one
a decade ("Falstaff" in the early reign of Henry V presumably,
"Giovanna d'Arco" during her career in 1428-1430, "I Due
Foscari" actually in 1457, maybe should have gone after
"Trovatore" which is just mid-century; when was the battle
of Pelilla, on whose field Azucena found Manrico alive?)
and it's striking that TWO operas completely unrelated to
Carlo Quinto, "Rigoletto" (toward the end of the reign of
Francis I in 1547, since the original of Monterone's daughter
didn't make her court debut till then) and "Alzira" (shortly
but not JUST after the Spanish conquest of the Incas in 1533),
intervene between "Ernani" where he's a young unwanted lover
elected Holy Roman Emperor and "Don Carlos" where he's an
old retired incognito monk or ghost, whichever he is. (VERDI
didn't know!!! Argh!) To my surprise there are NO Verdi
operas in the 17th century-- I thought "Forza" would be, but
it says early 18th and I understand you can date THAT one by
the particular war that's going on-- and then we get another
cluster in mid- to late 18th with the assassination of Gustav
III in 1792. Hmmm!

     Anyway, **I** like it. As a historian who thrives on dates
and a very story-oriented opera person, I found this a nice
exercise. Is Verdi the most wide-ranging opera composer in
terms of choosing historical settings and getting local
chronological colour into them, or am I just filling standard
plots with my own sense of the periods?

                                        Jane Bishop
                                               ([log in to unmask])

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