This year marks the bicentenary of the birth of composer Giuseppe Verdi, and this month’s BBC Music Magazine celebrates the life and work of the great man. Italian conductor Gianandrea Noseda has marked the occasion with a new disc of Verdi arias performed by the soprano Anna Netrebko. We spoke to him about the unique quality of the music of arguably Italy’s greatest opera composer
When did you first encounter Verdi’s music?
It was 1977 and I was 13 years old, watching TV. The Italian broadcaster RAI were showing an incredible opening night of La Scala, televised live. Carlos Kleiber was conducting Otello, with tenor Plácido Domingo, sorpano Mirella Freni and baritone Piero Cappuccilli. Until that night I had not really cared about opera, but that night was like a big bang for me! From then on the opera bug was planted in my mind.
What do you enjoy about conducting Verdi’s music?
Verdi knows exactly what he wants to say through the music. The conductor’s job is to try to find out what that is. He challenges the conductor to create the right atmosphere. The conductor must use his own imagination to create ambience and drama – and to convey that through the music. Verdi makes every single tiny detail count, every moment is meaningful; there is never a dull moment.
Which is your favourite character and why?
The father figures in Verdi mean a great deal to me. They are strong, well-drawn personalities. But they also often play a pivotal role, changing the outcome of the story. Verdi seems to have been especially interested in the role of the father, and this is all the more poignant when you think of his own experience; he lost his wife and daughter when they were very young, so he was a suffering father. The father of Amelia in Simon Boccanegra is a gigantic character. I like Rigoletto not as a jester but as the father of Gilda. And I like the father in La Forza del Destino, Marquis of Calatrava, and his fervor when he tries to tell Leonora not to marry Don Alvaro. It is quite a list!
Do you have a favourite piece of music by Verdi and if so why?
Yes, the Stabat Mater. It was one of the last pieces he composed, after his last opera Falstaff. It is not operatic. It has incredible humanity, and yet such simplicity. It goes right to the heart. I adore it. He says important things in the simplest possible way.
Are there any Verdi operas which aren’t in the mainstream which you think deserve more attention?
I Vespri Siciliani and Simon Boccanegra. They deserve to be in the top rank and they are not performed enough. He wrote them at an important period of transition in his life. He had to make a decision to continue on the path of the big successes La Traviata, Rigoletto, Il Trovatore, or whether he wanted to develop, to explore new paths. These two operas are the first he wrote in this new period. He wanted to look for new ways of using the orchestra, he tried to make the structure bigger, the orchestration is much more refined, and he did not want necessarily to be restricted by arias, cabalettas and duets.
For people who enjoy Verdi, which other composers’ work would you suggest they listen to next?
Beethoven and Shostakovich. It seems to me that they come from the same mould as Verdi. These three men were musical geniuses, who possessed unbelievable depths of creative power.
Gianandrea Noseda conducts the LSO in works by Britten, Prokofiev and Shostakovich on 29 September at 7.30pm. Anna Netrebko’s disc of Verdi arias, conducted by Noseda, is available now on the Deutsche Grammophon label
Photo: Sussie Ahlburg