Giuseppe Verdi

de Grigore Constantinescu

Bucureşti, Editura Didactică şi Pedagogică, 2009


          Who other than Grigore Constantinescu could ever have gathered up his courage to write on Giuseppe Verdi? Constantinescu has it all: an incontestable position as a leader of Romanian musicologists specialising in opera, unfaltering attendance of every opening night at the Romanian Opera House for decades, always keeping up to date with the worldwide news in the field, the experience of writing volumes, as well as hundreds of articles, on the topic, of producing radio and television programmes, and, last but not least, his ongoing dialogue with the students he has taught from his music history and musicology chair at the National University of Music in Bucharest. In this latter capacity, he has introduced many of us into the most diverse secrets of music history, he has charmed our way into the realm of musical romanticism and the glittering, versatile world of the opera.
           Verdi’s creation has been a consistent, cyclical presence in Grigore Constantinescu’s writings. We were therefore expecting a modern Verdi monograph, which had been missing from Romanian musicology, from him. Now we have a volume which targets a wide audience and is useful both to the specialised reader and to the average music lover. We all know how difficult an outcome like this is to achieve. Striking the right balance between exact scientific information and an accessible tone, however, doesn’t seem to be anything out of Grigore Constantinescu’s league.
           It all starts from the attractive idea the book is built on. Being aware that, with tens of monographs written on Verdi, writing a new one is a significant challenge, the author chooses a literary (rather than chronological) path in his presentation of Verdi’s works. In fact, the chronological order is re-established in a final appendix that lists all of Verdi’s creations, as well as brief information on their first night performances. But before that, the reader doesn’t take long to be absorbed by the composer’s “encounters” with literary guidemarks. After The First Career Years (Début… and Failure, The Sign of Glory, Looking for Historical Plots) the encounter chapters follow: stimulating with Victor Hugo, inspiring with Friedrich Schiller. An Intermezzo, Prayer for Gathering One’s Thoughts looks into the matter of Verdi’s vocal-symphony music, of which, of course, the dominant one is the Requiem. And then the encounters go on: with his favourite Spaniards, with contemporary Frenchmen, his failed encounters with George Gordon Byron, the one with the imaginary exotic. Towards the end, Verdi’s well-known Escapes from the World of the Opera and, triumphantly, Verdi’s Ideal Encounters with William Shakespeare.
           The vision of the whole is thus rounded up as we become acquainted with the literary themes that cross Verdi’s creation, whether in passing or insistently. The result is an unostentatious coherence given to Verdi’s operas as a whole. Moreover, one cannot miss the point about that romantic ideal of the music-literature fusion as Verdi saw it. Ultimately, we are initiated into Verdi’s work by a refined connoisseur, who really enjoys being our guide.

Valentina Sandu-Dediu
(English version by Maria-Sabina Draga Alexandru)