Posts Tagged ‘Verdi’

Pizza and Opera

Posted in General, On This Day on March 11th, 2011 by Eugene Finerman – 3 Comments

March 11th

Rigolettos phonograph IllustrationOn this day in 1851, Guiseppe Verdi presented what would be one of his most popular works: “Music to Make Pizza.”   Underestimating his importance to Italian cuisine, however, Verdi merely called the opera “Rigoletto.”  By my conservative estimate, at least 43 billion pizzas have been flipped to the musical accompaniment of “La Donna E Mobile.”

It is physically impossible to hear the aria and just order plain cheese.

Rigoletto is the story of a warped, malevolent jester who lives for vengeance.  (Perhaps I do identify with the title character although I have yet to plot the murder of any of my clients–but I am an underachiever.)  Bringing it to the stage, Verdi had to contend with the warped, malevolent jesters in the Austrian civil service.  At the time, Northern Italy was still Hapsburg property and the Austrian administrators were a bunch of suppressive prudes.  To those Austrian bluenoses, the original story was both pornographic and revolutionary.

The more tolerant French government had the same reaction when Victor Hugo dramatized the story in 1832.  His play “Le Roi S’Amuse” depicted a shamelessly lecherous king whose innumerable seductions include the daughter of his court jester.  The murderous  jester then plots to avenge his defiled (but quite gratified) daughter; as you might guess in a melodrama, there are complications and the wrong person is murdered.    The French authorities considered the play to be a vilification of the reigning monarch Louis Philippe and an incitement to rebellion.  After one performance, “Le Roi S’ Amuse” was banned in France; and it would not be performed again there for fifty years.

The Austrian censors in Northern Italy were more zealous.  They first had to approve the storyline of the proposed opera before further work could be done on it.  Of course, Hugo’s original plot was rejected.  Kings were not to be depicted in an unflattering light, and there must never be any murderous plots against them.  Verdi and his librettist Francesco Piave had to continually negotiate a plot that would survive the censors.

The Austrians did not mind the Italians depicting themselves in a sordid manner; so the setting was changed to Italia.  The role of the king could be changed to a noble; but that noble could not have any living descendants to complain to the Austrians.  Fortunately, Italian virility is overrated, and there were a number of extinct aristocratic titles and lineages.  So the King of France was demoted to the Duke of Mantua; but that was fine with the censors.

“Rigoletto” premiered in Venice  on March 11, 1851.  Given its notorious French origins, the opera was not presented in Paris until 1857.  The alterations, however, met with the approval of the French government.  Victor Hugo’s approbation was not so easily won.  He disapproved of the compromising changes perpetrated on his work.  Nonetheless, Hugo was curious enough to see “Rigoletto” and he was almost disappointed that he enjoyed it.  At least, he had a vicarious satisfaction in the opera’s success.

And he was to have another vindicating pleasure.  When, after a 50 year ban, “Le Roi S’Amuse” was again performed in Paris, Victor Hugo was there to see it.