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'Intolerable' Verdi Situation About to Be Righted

5K pages of composer's drafts and sketches will go public
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 29, 2019 4:20 PM CST
Portrait of Giuseppe Verdi.   (Getty Images/johan10)

(Newser) – A 19th-century trunk filled with 5,000 pages of Giuseppe Verdi's "musical musings, stage directions, afterthoughts, and reconsiderations" has long been considered a "holy grail" of sorts, inaccessible to all but the most elite scholars. Per the New York Times, however, that trunk is now about to be opened up for all to see, despite the composer's initial instructions on the sketches and drafts he had for some of his most famous operas: "Burn these papers." For years the drafts sat locked away in their container in the family home in Sant'Agata, Italy, despite being deemed of public interest in 2008, with one expert calling it "intolerable" that academics have had such a hard time getting viewing time with the documents. But the contents of the trunk, which was moved to the state archive in Parma two years ago, are now about to go public, and it's a virtual treasure trove.

The documents span nearly half a century, including hundreds of pages of drafts on operas such as Aida, Falstaff, and Otello. A musicologist who has seen inside the trunk says it's not only interesting to see which drafts Verdi ultimately dismissed, but also to see how his work evolved over time, which can be determined by both the type of paper he used—the cheaper stuff for early drafts—and by the way his handwriting became "much looser" as he matured. In 2017, the Sunday Times first reported that the Verdi stash had been appropriated by the Italian government after it persuaded his family to give the papers up so they could be properly digitized and preserved. "The public good has prevailed over private ownership," one author who pushed for access to the papers said at the time. (Verdi got this lady in trouble with the law.)

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