Verdi: A bold request
Leticia Marie Sanchez
The following correspondence in the form of abridged letters between Giuseppe Verdi and one very unusual opera-goer, Prospero Bertani:
Much Honoured Signor Verdi, Reggio, May 7, 1872
On the second of this month, attracted by the sensation which your opera Aida was making, I went to Parma. Half an hour before the performance began I was already in my seat, No.120. I admired the scenery, listened with great pleasure to the excellent singers, and took pains to let nothing escape me. After the performance was over, I asked myself whether I was satisfied. The answer was “No.”
I returned to Reggio, and on the way back in the railroad carriage, I listened to the verdicts of my fellow travelers. Nearly all of them agreed that Aida was a work of the highest rank.
Thereupon I conceived a desire to hear it again, and on the fourth returned to Parma. I made the most desperate effort to obtain a reserved seat, and there was such a crowd that I was obliged to throw away five lire to see the performance in comfort.
I arrived at this decision: it is an opera in which there is absolutely nothing which causes any enthusiasm or excitement, and without the pomp of the spectacle, the public would not stand it to the end. When it has filled the house two or three times, it will be banished to the dust of the archives.
Now, my dear Signor Verdi, you can imagine my regret at having spent on two occasions 32 lire for these two performances. Add to this the aggravating circumstance that I am dependent on my family, and you will understand that this money troubles my rest like a terrible spectre. Therefore I address myself frankly and openly to you, so that you may send me the amount.
Here is the account:
Railroad: One way 2.60 lire; Railroad: Return trip 3.30 lire; Theater 8.00 lire Detestable dinner at the station 2.00 lire
=15.90 lire Multiplied by 2= 31.80 lire
In the hope that you will extricate me from this embarrassment, I salute you from the bottom of my heart
My address: Bertani, Prospero; Via San Domenico No. 5
Verdi’s reply, addressed to his publisher Ricordi May, 1872
As you may readily imagine, in order to save this scion of his family from the spectres that pursue him, I shall gladly pay the little bill he sends me. Be so kind, therefore, as to have one of your agents send the sum of 27 lire, 80 centesimi to this Signor Prospero Bertani, Via San Domenico No. 5. True, that isn’t the whole sum he demands, but for me to pay his dinner too would be wearing the joke a bit thin. He could perfectly well have eaten at home. Naturally, he must send you a receipt, as well as a written declaration that he promises never to hear another one of my new operas, so that he won’t expose himself again to the danger of being pursued by spectres, and that he may spare me further travel expenses!
What Mr. Bertani did not realize was that Mr. Verdi encouraged his publisher to publish the correspondence in newspapers far and wide.
So, the tables soon turned. The one receiving hate mail was Mr. Bertani. He received vitriolic letters from all over the nation. His prophecy about AIDA gathering “dust” also backfired. AIDA has become one of the most popular operas of all time.
Verdi’s letters were discussed in a vivid lecture by Professor Robert Greenberg, P.H.D. How to Listen to and Understand Great Music, 3rd Edition. Part 5 of 6. Lecture 38: 19th Century Italian Opera, Giuseppe Verdi.
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