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October 2013
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Verdi, What’s with the Ballets?

Sicilian Vespers by Francesco Hayez

Sicilian Vespers by Francesco Hayez

Q. How do you pronounce Cicero?

Lisa Flynn – Like the suburb?

WRONG ANSWER. In 1282, the locals used that as a test to unmask the French Angevins. It is estimated that 2,000 people were massacred.

Certain composers jeté to the fore when it comes to ballet: Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky, Debussy, Ravel, Copland etc.; Verdi and Wagner don’t. What they wrote for dance can almost seem an afterthought when unconvincingly wedged into (usually) the third act of an opera. Some conductors will cut the ballet music altogether; others argue that it’s music written by one of the finest composers of all time; isn’t that reason enough to play it?

On Thursday at 1:00 PM, Lisa Flynn presents the ballet music from I vespri siciliani by Giuseppe Verdi. It’s a substantial, almost 30 minutes of music.

Q. This is a CD you’ve spun before, how do these pieces strike you?

Lisa Flynn – I think the music is very appealing. Verdi had incredible orchestral skills on top of being able to write such memorable tunes. He approached his   overtures and ballet music with the same craftsmanship and attention to detail as he did for the voice.

Q. Why would Verdi add ballet music to an opera (nearly 30 minutes without singers)?

Lisa Flynn – Les vêpres siciliennes (The Sicilian Vespers) was written for the Paris Opera, which had different conventions from Italian opera houses of the  time. One of the biggest differences was that productions always had an extended ballet scene in the third act. So in the middle of his opera about a Sicilian uprising against French occupation in 13th-century Palermo, Verdi wrote a half-hour ballet depicting the four seasons. Makes sense!

Q. The opera is based on an historical event: the Sicilian rebellion against French occupation (known as Sicilian Vespers). Many Frenchmen were massacred during the uprising. How did that go over with Verdi’s French audience?  

Lisa Flynn – Apparently the French had no problem with the story. The opera was a tremendous success at its premiere, performed 62 times at the Paris Opera in the first year alone.

Q. How do you pronounce Cicero?

Lisa Flynn – Like the suburb?

WRONG ANSWER. In 1282, during the historic massacre against the French, the locals used that as a test to unmask the French Angevins in their midst. It is estimated that 2,000 people were slaughtered.

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