Shirley Verrett – Artistic Versatility at its Penultimate Best

When Shirley Verrett switched fachs from mezzo-soprano to soprano much of the opera world didn’t know what to think since hardly ever did a singer make such a drastic transition while still in their vocal prime. One can only assume the constant hemming and hawing from those associated with such a pristine art form that got shaken up over the slightest bit of change must have worn out La Verrett over time. I made this presumption after walking along the fountained plaza of Lincoln Center one day in the late 1980’s to see banners being newly put on display along the cultural center’s entire perimeter which stated in big bold letters:


To which I murmured aloud, “What vocal coglioni!”
(If you’re not sure what that foreign word means, good.)

Through those simply worded banners, Shirley Verrett was telling every nay-sayer in the classical world in no uncertain terms to Fach Off.

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

During the Second World War at the Nazi concentration camp of Theresienstadt better known as Terezin, Verdi’s Requiem was performed an astounding 16 times. A Romanian conductor and composer named Rafael Schachter both organized and conducted the singers and instrumentalists from start to finish. Having only his one copy of the score which he carried with him everywhere, Schachter secretly arranged rehearsals with his fellow inmates until they were at a performance level to present Verdi’s masterpiece to the public. When asked why he dared to perform a Catholic Requiem among predominantly Jewish prisoners, Schachter replied:

“We must respond to the worst of mankind with the best of mankind.”

Through his life and art, it can be said that Giuseppe Verdi has assisted in bringing mankind significantly closer to a Divine Source.

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

Even the Maestro, himself, was star struck when it came to artistic greatness. In fact, Giuseppe Verdi was so thoroughly well versed in this one man’s artistry, it’s not a stretch to say the Father of Italian Opera could very well have been one of his biggest fans.

This hyper-fandom is evidenced by the Maestro not only having read each and every one of this man’s numerous works, he did so repeatedly. This famed personality was so revered by the composer, a special term of endearment was reserved for him whenever Verdi used the word “Pappa”. Giuseppe Verdi held this man’s genius in such high regard, the Maestro took four of his complete works and set them each to music.

I can only be referring to that 17th century British actor whom many consider to be the greatest writer of the English language and whose plays are as timely today as when they were when originally written some 500 years ago – the Bard of Avon, William Shakespeare.

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

The diabolically dramatic entrance aria sung by the witch Ulrica in Verdi’s “Un Ballo in Maschera” holds a momentous place in the History of Classical Music, since that was the vocal piece sung by the first African American to grace the stage of the Metropolitan Opera. The vocally astounding contralto, Marian Anderson made operatic history when she sang the role of Ulrica during her one and only operatic performance in front of a live audience on January 7th, 1955.

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

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 both Pig and Player 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 the tightest of 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.

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Remembering Joe Green: The Life & Art of Giuseppe Verdi – Part I

Joe Green.

That’s how I first became familiar with the great composer, Giuseppe Verdi. I was in 2nd grade and my father was taking me on my first stroll through that vast, expansive world that is Classical Music. Knowing at the age of 8 I wasn’t quite ready to fully absorb or pronounce anything remotely resembling Italian, my father would animatedly say to me, “Giuseppe Verdi is another way of saying Joe Green.” He then proceeded to play me that popular Verdi hit used to sell anything from life insurance to car wax, The Anvil Chorus from “Il Trovatore” from Dad’s “Voice of Firestone” record collection. After becoming familiar with the tune, whenever the chorus of renegade gypsies broke into song in synch with their metallic hammers, my father would turn to me and say “Who wrote it?”

Joe Green. He wrote that and a whole lot more.

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Richard Strauss – A Most Mercurial Life

Richard Strauss is considered by most music historians to be one of the most innovative artists of the 20th century by virtue of his compositions of symphonic music, opera, tone poems, and lieder or art songs. His musical contributions have been interpreted as both ground-breakingly shocking through his use of dissonance and morally defiant choices of subject matter to the most beautifully sublime.

However, there are those who greatly downplay the influence of the German composer’s work based on actions he took which many interpret on the surface to have been made by a blatant hypocrite and/or weak willed opportunist. Among the musical elite of the present day there are a choice few in Strauss’ field that cannot reconcile the Mercurial composer’s actions with his art.  Their argument being deeply rooted in the following moral dilemma:

Should a person’s art be praised and appreciated unto itself despite that person’s actions being interpreted as a willingness to overlook the overt displays of evil that took place over the course of his or her lifetime?

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