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Tag: Giuseppe Verdi (Page 1 of 4)

Bel canto and beyond

The Eda Kuhn Loeb Music Library has recently acquired the personal collection of Italian accompanist, conductor and vocal coach Luigi Ricci (1893-1981): printed scores containing vocal exercises, opera and other large-scale vocal genres, instrumental music and songs, many of them annotated, some heavily, by Ricci and others. Taken as a whole, the collection illustrates the knowledge and taste of an important figure in the opera world of twentieth-century Italy.

A two-page article by Luigi Ricci outlining the opera singing techniques he learned from Giacomo Puccini. Illustrated by a caricature of the composer.

“Ten Commandments of Puccini,” by Luigi Ricci. Opera News (December 17, 1977). Eda Kuhn Loeb Music Library Mus 15.17

From an early age, Ricci provided piano accompaniment at voice lessons given by baritone Antonio Cotogni, whose performances of several Verdi operas were supervised by the composer himself. Ricci took careful notes throughout his career, eventually publishing several books in which he communicates the nineteenth-century bel canto traditions passed on to him in his teenage years by Cotogni and, subsequently, by the composers with whom he collaborated as an assistant conductor at the Rome Opera House.

A vocal score of Il trovatore by Giuseppe Verdi. The cover is printed in black and blue on white wrappers. Across the top of the cover, Luigi Ricci has boldly written his last name in blue crayon

Ms. Coll. 179, Box 12. Eda Kuhn Loeb Music Library, Harvard University

The impact of Luigi Ricci on twentieth-century opera performance is summarized by Renata Scotto in a 2016 Opera News article: ““When I teach, I’m thinking of my own teachers and of the great conductors I learned so much from. They gave to me so much—and I gave to them a lot, I believe. In the beginning, I had a great teacher—Luigi Ricci, who had been a coach at Teatro di Roma and did Butterfly with Puccini. I got directly what Puccini told him. I feel it’s my duty to pass it on to young singers. Ricci spoke a lot about the words. Puccini was very much interested in the interpretation, the passion, the love. ‘Un bel dì’ is not an aria—you tell a vision. Ricci told me, ‘Don’t sing too much—don’t make a big sound. Have a vision of that nave bianca.’”

He is best known today for interpreting Puccini and Verdi, but Ricci’s collection also includes scores, most of them enthusiastically annotated, of scores by Shostakovich, Wagner, Mozart and many others. This 1945 vocal score of Benjamin Britten’s Peter Grimes bears Ricci’s typical traces of ownership:

Two pages of music: a vocal score edition of Benjamin Britten's opera Peter Grimes (1945). Former owner Luigi Ricci has added Italian translation and several expressive notes.

Ms. Coll. 179, Box 14. Eda Kuhn Loeb Music Library, Harvard University.

The Luigi Ricci collection of scores, 1865-1969 was processed by Émilie Blondin and Christina Linklater. The entire collection is now available; click on Request to Copy or Visit to schedule your appointment or arrange for scans.

Contributed by Christina Linklater, Keeper of the Isham Memorial Library and Houghton Music Cataloger.

“As nearly perfect an opera as one is likely to find”: Solti’s Un Ballo in Maschera

“I love Ballo, which is as nearly perfect an opera as one is likely to find,” wrote Sir Georg Solti in his 1997 Memoirs. The conductor first performed the work as music director of the Frankfurt Opera in 1954, and six years later, Verdi’s masterful work served as Solti’s first operatic collaboration in the recording studio with soprano Birgit Nilsson, when he recorded the work with the Rome Opera in July of 1960 and 1961 (a project which began with tenor Jussi Bjoerling, but in the end enlisted the services of Carlo Bergonzi).

Un Ballo in Maschera rehearsal schedule (1982). Merritt Room Mus 857.2.679.7 Solti. Gift of the Solti Estate

Un Ballo in Maschera rehearsal schedule (1982). Merritt Room Mus 857.2.679.7 Solti. Gift of the Solti Estate. (Click to enlarge)

In May and June of 1982 (with further sessions in May 1983) Solti returned to the recording studio, this time at Kingsway Hall in London, to record the work a second time, with Margaret Price and Luciano Pavarotti. The orchestra for this second recording was the National Philharmonic, a studio orchestra of players assembled from London’s principal orchestras; no stage performances were associated with this cast. The rehearsal schedule which accompanies this conducting score indicates the day-to-day scheduling from May 25 to June 12 of 1982, in mainly afternoon (with some evening) sessions, including the pages rehearsed (Ricordi full and vocal scores) and timings. Solti performed the work complete, without cuts.

  • Verdi, Giuseppe
    [Ballo in Maschera]
    Un ballo in maschera / di G. Verdi. Milano: G. Ricordi, [1896?]. Merritt Room Mus 857.1.679.7 Solti.

    Rebound into 2 volumes with numerous annotations throughout in red and black pencil in Sir Georg Solti’s hand; rehearsal schedule (1 pg.) inserted.

    Gift of the Solti Estate.

Giuseppe Verdi, "Forse la soglia attinse," Un ballo in maschera. Merritt Mus 857.1.679.7 Solti. Gift of the Solti Estate.

Giuseppe Verdi, “Forse la soglia attinse,” Un ballo in maschera. Merritt Mus 857.1.679.7 Solti. Gift of the Solti Estate. (Click to enlarge)

Also noteworthy in this heavily annotated score are his markings in various “layers” of colored pencil. Lady Solti has cited his “keen desire to listen to playbacks of the takes of his recordings,” and Decca recording engineer Gordon Parry noted that Solti would “scribble in his scores in different colours, according to which [take].”1

The work figured prominently in Solti’s life one further time, in July of 1989, when, following the sudden death of Herbert von Karajan, he was called upon with only a week’s notice to conduct John Schlesinger’s new production at the Salzburg Festival. His initial refusal was overcome by Plácido Domingo, and in a riveting tale involving airlifting his score from his London apartment to his summer home in Roccamare, Italy, and the intervention of the commandant of the local NATO base near Salzburg who allowed a private plane, supplied by one of the Festival’s most devoted supporters, to land there, Solti’s “potentially unrewarding and risky task” was a success; he was invited to conduct the work again at the festival the following summer. Those were to be his final performances of Un Ballo in Maschera; though any conductor who can claim as his Riccardos, Carlo Bergonzi, Luciano Pavarotti, and Plácido Domingo can be justly proud of his achievement.

– Robert Dennis

1. Patmore, David N. C. “Sir Georg Solti and the Record industry,” ARSC Journal 41.2 (2010): 218, (Harvard users).

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