Prima Verdi is tenor Francesco Meli’s solo recording debut. He is accompanied by the Orchestra del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino conducted by Marco Armiliato.
This album is a journey through “my” Verdi, from the operas of the so-called years of hard labour to his last works. Above all it is a pathway through the vocality of Verdi, to sustain and fulfil the idea that the composer himself had of “his tenor”.
He says that he’s always admired the meticulousness and skill in the dynamic markings that Verdi provides for the performer and “the continual search for a deep relationship between words, rhythm and music”.
Bold words, as the singer must prove that he has the vocal timbre, colour, range, volume and weight to make him particularly suited to interpreting Verdi’s tenor roles. Throughout his life, Verdi selected his performers with almost manic care, favouring singers who paid attention to dynamic markings and to varied expression.
Each one of Verdi’s indications is indispensable for a proper understanding of the character; far from being a cage that limits the performer, it is a detailed canovaccio* that opens up a world of music, dramaturgy and theatre, an immense range of opportunities for the musician who is prepared to make the composer’s indications his own.
Francesco Meli was born in Genoa, a city closely bound up with the figures of Giuseppe Verdi and Giuseppina Strepponi who would winter there. Meli has been breathing Verdi arias since childhood. In the booklet notes by musicologist Giovanni Vitali, he writes:
Verdi’s operas later formed the basis of his repertoire and this choice has given him the opportunity to work often with Riccardo Muti. Thanks to this key partnership, Meli’s artistic work has followed in the wake of that noble tradition of Italian opera which, starting with the great masters of the past like Arturo Toscanini and Antonino Votto, reached Muti and continues today through those who work with him: singers, pianists and pupils. It is a school founded on the meaning of words as they relate to the music, on the value of dynamic and agogic markings on the score, on attention to expressive detail and on the importance of piano rehearsals in the practice room before proceeding with orchestra staging rehearsals: these all contribute to the construction of a performance, bringing the conductor and the singers to move as one, with shared intents and objectives.
This is my homage to the great father of Melodrama, there where words become music. But it is also a stage on my journey of attachment to Verdi as a man, father of the Nation and deep down inside, a revolutionary.
* a scenario used by commedia dell’arte players that consisted only of a list of acts and scenes and the details were left to the actors to improvise.
Prima Verdi is available on streaming platforms and in CD and LP formats and is out now.
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano’) about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman’s Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia’ column for Dancing Times magazine.