Remembering Joe Green: The Life & Art of Giuseppe Verdi, Part II

Alfredo Kraus Duke of Mantua color
The Spanish tenor Alfredo Kraus singing his signature role as that not so nice guy, The Duke of Mantua from Verdi’s “Rigoletto”

from Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Rigoletto

Necessity dictates we should start with that most popular of toe tapping ditties penned by the Maestro that everyone and their Italian grandmother can hum in their sleep. Most don’t realize one of the most contagious tunes of all timewas penned by Giuseppe Verdi, probably due to everyone’s first exposure to it being from either “The Flintstones” or some random commercial for Prince spaghetti sauce.

Funnily enough people also mistakenly think the ditty is a fun loving tune sung by an even more fun loving guy.

Ummmm no.

“La Donna E Mobile”, when translated politely roughly means “Woman is fickle.” and I won’t even touch with a 10 foot gondolier pole what the phrase translates to in street Italian. The most well loved tenor aria of all time is from Verdi’s masterpiece “Rigoletto“. It’s the anthem song of the chauvinistic pig who (keeping things polite) is a tad too preoccupied with loving (followed by immediately leaving) the ladies and is sung by the character considered to be the Lord King Chauvinist of Pigs and Players alike, the Duke of Mantua.

Before the opera even made it to the stage, Verdi knew he had a major hit on his hands, if only for Act III’s opening aria, “La Donna e Mobile”.  When Rigoletto made its debut in Venice, rehearsals were held in utmost secrecy for fear of the Duke’s aria being pirated.  No matter.  It’s been said the next day after the opera’s Venetian premiere, every gondolier could be heard throughout the city crooning the Duke’s ditty from the canals.

Verdi intended on the opera being named “Il Maledizione” or “The Curse:, but the censors at the time thought the title unto itself would scare audiences off.  No matter.  The man could have called the piece “The Blood Bucket” and “La Donna e Mobile” would still have kept crowds coming back and screaming for more.

To sing this most popular of Verdi tunes, I’ve chosen one of my all time favorite tenors, the incomparable Alfredo Kraus.  Kraus was a firm believer in singing one’s “fach” or roles for one’s voice type, and he professionally sang on stage until just a few months before his death at the age of 71. With the Maestro’s birth taking place in Parma, where better to start the singing than from Verdi’s home base, the Teatro Regio di Parma? Note, the piece is only 2 minutes 9 seconds however the clip is nearly 5 minutes long due to the then 60 year old Kraus holding the high C last note for close to a good 10 years and the natives from Verdi’s home turf scream applauding for even longer.

When the Italians love you, they let you know….and even more so when they don’t.

*Brad Kronen has written an astrological dating guide for every sign of the Zodiac.  In honor of the great Alfredo Kraus, below is a link to the sign the man most associated with the Duke of Mantua was born under – Sagittarius.

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