Monday, April 18, 2011

Toscanini Conducts Verdi

Everybody's clearly been rehearsed within an inch of their lives. The singers stand perfectly still, like pipes on an organ, with their hands folded at their diaphragms. Every detail of this performance was clearly planned sixty years in advance.

To anyone who thinks that Verdi is pure melodrama for singers on an ego trip, I would submit Toscanini's Verdi as an irrefutable exhibit A. This is the stuff of Shakespeare and Sophecles at their most eloquent and perfect. Every note tintinnabulates in relation to every other as an unbreakable part of an indivisible whole.

Toscanini, fifty-four years Verdi's junior, became Verdi's favorite conductor at the end of his long life. We have precious few reminders of the operatic golden age over which Toscanini presided. The young Toscanini was every bit the tyrant in his younger years that he was as he aged, but his musical curiosity was far greater. Imagine how great American opera might have been had Toscanini thrown the same passion into American opera as he did into Verdi and Wagner.

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