This is the next book in the series about great composers by John Suchet, the former newsreader. I reviewed his ‘Mozart’ and ‘Beethoven’ works, so was asked to review ‘Verdi’. I wasn’t wholly excited about this, as opera isn’t really my favourite type of music, but I remember enjoying a rather splendid joint school production of ‘Nabucco’ by my school with the local boys’ school, so tried to read with an open mind.
- John Suchet
The book is a large hardback (awkward for bedtime reading), printed on good quality paper, and with many illustrations including photographs of Verdi himself. I was surprised to see them, but should have remembered that his life in the late 19th Century would have seen the development of photography and even the development of famous people being photographed without their knowledge, as is apparent from one picture.
As with the other volumes, Mr. Suchet has researched his subject meticulously and makes him come alive as a human being, character imperfections and all. An intensely private man, Verdi has made life difficult for biographers, by hiding or destroying much related to his life. Due to Mr. Suchet's diligence we learn that he was a child prodigy, that he married young, but lost his wife and two small children, a common occurrence in the 19th Century, and had stormy relationships with his parents, librettists, sponsors and the theatres where his music was staged. I also learned that several of his operas failed totally and were booed on their first night, but he then re-wrote to be successful, a concept I had never considered! He seems to have struggled with a desire to be a farmer, ending up owning vast estates and retiring from composing for months or years at a time to grow food, breed cattle, and ignore the world of showbusiness. He found the process of staging his music difficult and stressful, and this affected his health, so this is understandable.
Verdi’s legacy is a number of operas, which are loved and famous worldwide, performed often and to sell-out audiences, as well as his farms and estates, and a Rest Home for Musicians in Milan, where he and his second wife are buried, alongside a memorial tablet to Teresa Stolz, the soprano singer who spent many years sharing domestic arrangements with them. Arrsers may be interested to know that both she and her sister were involved in similar menages a trois!
Despite my reservations I really enjoyed the book, learning a lot, and being carried along by Mr. Suchet’s engaging writing , interesting stories about the composer and insights into his life and work.