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Giuseppe Verdi


Daniel Snowman

(published by The History Press in the “Pocket Giants” series; £6.99)

You might at first wonder what Verdi is doing in the company of national leaders such as King Alfred, Abraham Lincoln or Nelson Mandela. Jane Austen perhaps, as both were creative geniuses, but Buddha or Hannibal? The answer lies in the subtitle for the series – people who changed the world and why they matter.

There have been many biographies of the composer since his death in 1901 and, though interest in his individual operas (27, including revised versions) has fluctuated with changes in musical tastes and fashions, his place in the pantheon headed by Mozart, Puccini and Wagner has always been ensured.

Daniel Snowman’s monograph is as much concerned with the man and his epoch as with the opera themselves. Verdi was a very efficient self-publicist. Snowman is at pains to discount the “simple peasant” cloak which Verdi wore with such a flourish and he explains the national and political changes which occurred in Italy and his neighbouring countries with concision as well as accuracy.

Verdi’s relationships with his family, friends, publishers and impresarios are also made clear in a non-judgemental fashion. Not that the music is ignored, far from it. But this 125-page book prefers to set it in context – and that context has a great deal to do with power politics, whether of the opera house or regional authority variety – rather than concentrate on detailed analysis.

The bibliography guides you to some of the standard works on the operas and personalities involved if you want to know more. I suspect that you will.

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