Listening Lists: Verdi Opera Excerpts

Updated: Jan 27

Whet your appetite for Verdi with excerpts from five of his many operas!


Il trovatore: Vedi! le fosche notturne spoglie

(Anvil Chorus)



The "Coro de Zingari" (literally "gypsy chorus", but known as the "Anvil Chorus" in English) from Verdi's "Il trovatore" (The Troubadour) depicts Spanish gypsies hard at work striking their anvils at dawn, and celebrating the pleasures of good wine and gypsy women. It is well-known for its rousing tune and the off-beat rhythms of the anvils being struck.

Note: the term "gypsy" now has pejorative connotations - "Roma" or "Romani" is preferred. The Roma/Romani are a nomadic people group, with their most concentrated populations being in parts of Europe, and their roots being from northern India.


The opera itself is based on the play "El trovador" (1836) by Antonio García Gutiérrez. It is a story of witchcraft, murder, and vengeance!

La Traviata: Sempre libera


"La Traviata" (The Fallen Woman) is based on the play "La Dame aux camélias" (1852) by Alexandre Dumas fils, which was in turn adapted from his 1848 novel. The story centres around Violetta Valéry - a courtesan who has fallen sick with tuberculosis - and her romance with Alfredo.


In the final scene of Act I, the character Violetta reflects on her feelings for Alfredo. Rather than including a standard "aria" (solo song within an opera), the scene begins with freer-form "recitative" (like sung-speech) sections, and then moves into a double aria "cantabile-cabaletta" (sometimes just called "cabaletta") - popular in 19th century Italian opera.


The first "cantabile" section is slower and more lyrical. The second "cabaletta" section is more animated and often includes florid ornamentation. The cabaletta section "Sempre libera" is well-known in its own right and is sometimes performed on its own.


Watch from 5:28 for "Sempre libera" (but we recommend watching the whole scene!).

Otello: Credo in un Dio crudel


The opera "Otello" is based on the Shakespearean play of the same name. After the success of his opera "Aida" in 1871, Verdi was reluctant to compose anything new. However, his publisher Giulio Ricordi convinced him to work on some projects, including "Otello". The work took over 5 years to complete, but it was a resounding success, and was staged at many theatres following the premiere.


In the aria "Credo in un dio crudel", the villain Iago, who was demoted by Otello from his role as an ensign (a soldier who is responsible for carrying the flag of a unit, regiment, or army), watches as Cassio speaks to Otello's wife Desdemona about reinstating him. He voices his nihilistic beliefs about his pre-destined evil ways, and declares his hatred for humankind.


Translation:

I believe in a cruel God who created me

Similar to himself, and in wrath I am born.

From the cowardice of a germ or an atom

Vile I was born.

I am wicked because I am a man;

And I feel the original mud in me.

Yes, that is my fate!

I believe with a firm heart, just as

The widow at the temple believes,

That the evil I think and that proceeds from me,

I fulfil my destiny.

I believe that the righteous man is a mocking histrion (actor),

And in his face and in his heart,

That everything in him is a liar:

A tear, a kiss, a look,

Sacrifice and honour.

And I believe that man is a game of unrighteous fate

From the germ of the cradle

To the worm of the grave.

Death comes after such derision.

And then? And then what? Death is Nothingness.

Heaven is an old story.

Don Carlo: O don fatale


"Don Carlo" (or "Don Carlos" in French) was originally composed in French, but is most often performed in Italian. It tells the story of Don Carlo, son of the King of Spain, and is a a drama of jealousy, death, and betrayal.


Just prior to the aria "O don fatale", the princess Eboli, rejected by Don Carlos, confesses that it was she who told the king that his wife Elisabeth and Don Carlos were having an affair. She also confesses that she herself is the mistress of the king. Elisabeth orders her to choose between exile or the convent, and exits the stage. Eboli, now alone, curses her own beauty and pride. She resolves to try to save Don Carlos from the Inquisition, in order to make amends.

Aida: Celeste Aida


The opera "Aida" is set in the Old Kingdom of Egypt. The Egyptians have captured and enslaved Aida, an Ethiopian princess. It is a story of love and betrayal, against the backdrop of war between Egypt and Ethiopia.


The romanza (simple lyrical piece, usually in three-four time - ONE-two-three, ONE-two-three) "Celeste Aida" is sung by Radamès, a young Egyptian warrior who is secretly in love with Aida (and she with him). He dreams of victory on the battlefield (as he hopes to one day become a general) and of his love for Aida.

Translation:

If only I were that warrior!

If only my dream might come true!

An army of brave men with me as their leader

And victory and the applause of all Memphis!

And to you, my sweet Aida,

To return crowned with laurels,

To tell you: for you I have fought,

For you I have won!


Heavenly Aida, divine form,

Mystical garland of light and flowers,

You are queen of my thoughts,

You are the splendour of my life.

I want to give you back your beautiful sky,

The sweet breezes of your native land,

To place a royal garland on your hair,

To raise you a throne next to the sun.

Which Verdi opera excerpt (or complete opera!) is your favourite?

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