Life and Operas of Verdi

Course No. 790
Professor Robert Greenberg, Ph.D.
San Francisco Performances
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Course Overview

The Italians have a word for the sense of dazzling beauty produced by effortless mastery: "sprezzatura." Perhaps no cultural form associated with Italy is as steeped in the love of sprezzatura as opera, a genre the Italians invented. And no artist working in opera has embodied the ideal of sprezzatura as magnificently as that gruff, self-described "farmer" from the Po Valley and composer of 28 operas, Giuseppe Verdi (1813–1901).

Opera's Best-Loved Composer

Verdi is still the most popular composer in the 400-year-old history of opera. His operas are produced more than any other composer's, and one (admittedly unverifiable) source claims that his La traviata (1853) has been staged live somewhere around the world every evening for the past 100 years.

What are the treasures of creativity that account for this popularity? With Professor Robert Greenberg, you unpack them in depth and detail in this 32-lecture series.

You explore both famous and not-so-famous Verdi operas, as well as his Requiem Mass of 1874, his one great concert work; his early songs; and his very last composition, the Stabat Mater.

You trace his development from a more or less conventional composer of operas in the traditional Italian bel canto ("beautifully sung") style to a creator of truly innovative musical dramas in which the power of music to intensify and explore human emotion is exploited to the fullest degree.

"Verdi was a great dramatist and a great melodist at the same time, whose artistic evolution never ceased across the 50-year span of his career," says Professor Greenberg.

Enjoy a Mix of Biography and Musical Excerpts

The course structure is chronological, allowing you to follow easily the developing patterns in Verdi's work. Combining biography with a variety of musical excerpts, Professor Greenberg presents a memorable mixture of "sights to see and things to think about along the way."

To give a few examples:

  • Entertaining anecdotes, including how Verdi first realized Nabucco was a hit, or his response to a dissatisfied operagoer who asked him for a ticket refund—he saw Aida twice and did not like it either time
  • Enlightening musical analyses, such as Professor Greenberg's line-by-line examination of the breathtaking "quartet" sequence in Act III of Rigoletto—a musical achievement on a par with Mozart at the top of his operatic game, and an exploration of the massive, 38-minute "Dies irae" movement of the Requiem
  • The story behind how Verdi became a larger-than-life, iconic hero of Italian nationalism
  • An explanation of how Verdi worked out his complex creations in dealings with everyone from amazingly gifted librettists (such as Arrigo Boito) to maddening censors
  • Descriptions of key personal associations with lovers and spouses to business partners and politicians.
A Brief Biography

You trace Verdi's long life beginning at his birth in 1813 in the small village of Le Roncole in French-dominated northern Italy (then the Duchy of Parma), where his parents kept a tavern frequented by itinerant musicians.

Verdi's parents sent him to the nearby town of Busseto to study music with Ferdinando Provesi, a cofounder of the Busseto Philharmonic Society. Verdi learned the art of composition by writing hundreds of pieces, which were then performed by the Busseto Orchestra.

The other cofounder, Antonio Barezzi, took the young Verdi under his wing and later financed his compositional studies under Vincenzo Lavigna in Milan, after the Milan Conservatory had rejected his application on the grounds that he was too old and showed little musical promise.

In 1836, Verdi became master of music of the city of Busseto. His first opera, Oberto, was performed at the famous La Scala Opera House in Milan in 1839.

His next opera, Un giorno di regno (King for a Day), was a total flop, and Verdi never forgot the humiliation. From then on, he never had any regard for public opinion, good or bad.

Verdi's first masterpiece was Macbeth, premiered in 1847. This opera marked a watershed in Verdi's compositional development. In it, we begin to see Verdi depart from the traditional Italian bel canto opera, which focused on melodic and vocal beauty, often at the expense of dramatic integrity.

In the 1860s, Verdi began to slow down his prodigious output of operas. Between 1839 and 1859, he had composed 23 operas; between 1862 and 1893, he composed five operas and the Requiem.

When Verdi died in January 1901, 200,000 mourners came to see off to eternity the man who had, by the time of his death, become united Italy's most famous citizen.

The Primacy of Opera

A premise of the course—laid out by Professor Greenberg in his first lecture—is that opera cannot be understood as just one more musical genre among others in Western history.

On the contrary, states Dr. Greenberg, opera, Verdi's medium par excellence, is primary and central; the most important musical invention of the last half-millennium.

Opera was born out of the Italian Renaissance desire to recover and reproduce the dramatic art of the "ancients" by setting entire stage plays to music. What the Renaissance called "works in music" or opera in musica, we have shortened to simply "opera." As a genre, opera made the voice and feelings of the individual central to art as never before.

The implication of opera's primal and central character, argues Professor Greenberg, could not be clearer: If you want to understand classical (or more properly concert) music, you must understand opera.

Each lecture contains one or more musical excerpts, personally chosen by Professor Greenberg to provide you with vivid, concise illustrations of Verdi's artistry. The musical interludes average about 12 minutes per 45-minute lecture. The dates below indicate the year of the premiere.

Works you'll hear in the lectures are excerpted from:

Sei romanze (Six Romances), nos. 1 and 3, 1838
Oberto, 1839
Un giorno di regno, 1840
Nabucco, 1842
I Lombardi, 1843
Ernani, 1844
I due foscari, 1844
Macbeth, 1847
I masnadieri, 1847
Luisa Miller, 1849
Rigoletto, 1851
Il trovatore, 1853
La traviata, 1853
Les Vêpres siciliennes, 1855
Un ballo in maschera, 1859
La forza del destino, 1862
Don Carlo, 1867
Aida, 1871
Requiem Mass, 1874
Otello, 1887
Falstaff, 1893

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32 lectures
 |  Average 45 minutes each
  • 1
    La bell'Italia
    Verdi, like opera itself 200 years before him, was Italian-born. He came into a candlelit world, and died during the era of electricity. Despite all the changes he saw and made, his works never abandoned opera's roots as a popular entertainment or its devotion to sprezzatura, "the art of effortless mastery." x
  • 2
    Beginnings
    Verdi was a gifted student; wealthy citizens in his home region near Parma sent him to the Milan Conservatory. But the 18-year-old Verdi was deemed too old for admission, and so had to find another way to start his musical career. x
  • 3
    Oberto
    Embroiled in a bitter factional feud in his adopted hometown and stricken by the tragic loss of his two young children, Verdi nonetheless successfully transplanted himself to Milan and scored a modest success in November 1839 with the premiere of his first opera at La Scala. x
  • 4
    Nabucco
    His first wife's death and his second opera's disastrous premiere almost killed Verdi's young career. Yet a year later, in 1842, he bounced back both commercially and artistically with Nabucco, a biblical tale of liberation and unity that stirred Italians deeply. x
  • 5
    Nabucco, Conclusion and Risorgimento
    Verdi cannot be understood apart from the Italian Risorgimento; nor can it be understood apart from him, for his music was its soul and voice. The third-act duet between King Nabucco and his daughter Abigaille is a window on this remarkable cross-influence between an artist and a nation being born. x
  • 6
    I Lombardi
    The premiere of Nabucco would prove a turning point in Verdi's personal as well as professional life, for it was then that he met the singer and actress Giuseppina Strepponi, his future wife. La Scala gave him a contract whose first fruit was I Lombardi alla prima crociata (The Lombards at the First Crusade). x
  • 7
    I Lombardi, Conclusion and Ernani
    With the 1842 premiere of I Lombardi, Verdi began a decade of fiercely hard work, showing himself a master of the business side of the opera game. I Lombardi, Ernani, and other operas of this period such as I due foscari would drive Italian audiences wild and the Austrian censors up the wall. x
  • 8
    Macbeth
    In 1846, Verdi expanded his range still further with Macbeth, reaching for extreme Romantic effects that were a departure from the norms of Italian opera. Music and voices, he had decided, must above all express the truth of the characters and their inner worlds. x
  • 9
    I masnadieri
    In 1847, Verdi spent time in London, supervising a production of I masnadieri (The Robbers). In 1848, after revolutions broke out against regimes across Europe, an elated Verdi returned to Milan, newly liberated from the Austrians, only to see his hopes for an "Austria-free" Italy dashed. x
  • 10
    Luisa Miller and Rigoletto
    Luisa Miller is a tale of ordinary people crushed by absolutist government, and another step on Verdi's journey away from the bel canto tradition. Rigoletto, with its libretto by Francesco Piave, comes from a play by Victor Hugo. x
  • 11
    Rigoletto, Act I continued
    The first act in this lurid tale of wickedness, innocence, and a terrible curse blends music and drama in a way wholly new to Italian opera. In Rigoletto, the hunchbacked jester of the Duke of Mantua, Verdi and Piave have given us one of the great characters of the opera stage. x
  • 12
    Rigoletto, Acts I, II and III
    The Duke's aria "La donna e mobile" ("Woman is fickle") is one of the most famous in all opera. It speaks volumes about the shallow, Don-Juanish Duke, and is so tuneful that Verdi, while writing it, took elaborate steps to keep it secret lest its impact at the premiere be lessened. x
  • 13
    Rigoletto, Act III continued
    Rigoletto includes some of the most stunning ensemble and orchestral writing since Mozart. The atmospherics (literally!) are extraordinary too, as Verdi uses the orchestra and a wordless chorus to suggest a coming storm as a metaphor for doom. x
  • 14
    Rigoletto, Conclusion and Il trovatore
    How could Verdi top Rigoletto, one of the most memorable characters in all opera? In 1852, less than two years after Rigoletto's premiere, Verdi wrote not one but two more immortal operas, each musically brilliant, dramatically innovative, and beloved to this day. x
  • 15
    Il trovatore, Conclusion and La traviata
    While the public swooned with joy over Il trovatore's January 1853 premiere, some of Verdi's critics complained that its "vulgarity" had put an end to bel canto opera. Oddly enough, they were quite close to the mark. x
  • 16
    Un ballo in maschera
    Verdi created this opera with remarkable speed, but then had to fight a titanic public battle with the censors in Naples and settle a number of lawsuits before it could be staged to his liking—in Rome. x
  • 17
    Un ballo in maschera, Conclusion
    In Act III, Verdi shamelessly pulls out every melodramatic stop but somehow makes it all work: a sure sign of his genius. By now middle-aged, he also tried to retire from both politics and opera, but happily would succeed only in quitting the former. x
  • 18
    La forza del destino
    Written for the court of the Russian czar and premiered at St. Petersburg in 1862, this tale of star-crossed young lovers featured a "destiny" theme that stands as a musical landmark in Verdi's score. x
  • 19
    Don Carlo
    Verdi spent nearly a year composing Don Carlo, based on a drama by Friedrich von Schiller, for the Paris Opéra. The work caused some critics to make wrong, maddening, and yet not entirely unreasonable comparisons between Verdi and Wagner. x
  • 20
    Don Carlo, Conclusion
    Verdi hated autocracy, yet Act IV of Don Carlo pulls back the curtain of power to show the arch-autocrat Philip II of Spain in his humanity as a lonely man afraid of aging and betrayal. Princess Eboli's aria "O don fatal" in this act contains one of the greatest passages ever written for mezzo-soprano. x
  • 21
    Aida
    Set in ancient Egypt and commissioned by the Ottoman governor of that country to mark the completion of the Suez Canal, Aida is famous for spectacle, though its core is a tale of private love and loss. The opera's "first premiere," which Verdi himself did not conduct, was in Cairo.   x
  • 22
    Aida, Conclusion
    Taking Aida's 1872 Milan premiere to be his most important ever, Verdi forced changes on La Scala that are now the rule for opera houses everywhere. It was all to good effect, for Aida is the benchmark operatic spectacle and remains Verdi's most popular work. x
  • 23
    The Requiem
    The 1873 death of the great author Alessandro Manzoni—the virtual inventor of modern standard Italian—spurred Verdi to score a Requiem Mass in Manzoni's honor. The result is a work that is unique in this often-tried genre. x
  • 24
    The Requiem, Conclusion
    Verdi's seven-movement Requiem expresses an awesome range of emotions. We focus on its huge, 38-minute Dies irae (Day of Wrath) section and its closing Libera me. Along with Beethoven's Missa solemnis (1822) and Brahms's German Requiem (1869), Verdi's Requiem is the greatest work of religious music written between 1800 and 1900. x
  • 25
    Otello
    This was the product of a conspiracy to get Verdi—by now the most famous living Italian—to compose again. The key was librettist Arrigo Boito, whose partnership with Verdi would become one of the finest in musical history. x
  • 26
    Otello, Conclusion; Falstaff
    Otello was an event of national importance when it premiered in 1887, and many thought it was Verdi's swan song. Desdemona's "Willow Song" scene makes a window onto this masterwork on the tragic side of the Shakespearean range. x
  • 27
    Falstaff, Act I, Sc. 1
    Verdi had total control over Falstaff and crafted the whole production with great care and gusto. This was not only the summation of his life's work (and only his second comic opera), but broke new ground both dramatically and musically. x
  • 28
    Falstaff, Act I, Sc. 1, Conclusion; Sc. 2
    Verdi knew how crucial timing is to comedy, so he avoided arias in favor of a profusion of fluid melodic lines that overlap, spin off, and turn into something else entirely. The overall effect is remarkable. x
  • 29
    Falstaff, Act I, Sc. 2, Conclusion; Act II, Sc. 1
    The second scene of Act I features an amazing group-sing that combines men's and women's ensembles, each singing in a different meter. Act II begins with an explosive orchestral passage from which Verdi develops most of the scene's melodic material. x
  • 30
    Falstaff, Act II, Sc. 1, Conclusion; Sc. 2
    Verdi's "inner eye" for action on stage is almost as extraordinary as his inner ear for music. There is comic genius in the way he and Boito bring to life the antics of Falstaff, Ford, and the quick-witted "Merry Wives of Windsor." x
  • 31
    Falstaff, Act II, Sc. 2 continued
    Verdi's score matches the characters and their actions brilliantly: Falstaff's ostensibly seductive "love song" sounds comically dated, while later, fast-moving, overlapping vocal lines accompany complex slapstick action. x
  • 32
    Falstaff, Act II, Conclusion; Act III
    In 1900, a friend asked the 87-year-old Verdi which of his creations was his favorite. Verdi's response was extraordinary, and it tells us much about the man and where his priorities lay near the end of his life. x

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  • 312-page printed course guidebook
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Your professor

Robert Greenberg

About Your Professor

Robert Greenberg, Ph.D.
San Francisco Performances
Dr. Robert Greenberg is Music Historian-in-Residence with San Francisco Performances. A graduate of Princeton University, Professor Greenberg holds a Ph.D. in Music Composition from the University of California, Berkeley. He has seen his compositions—which include more than 45 works for a wide variety of instrumental and vocal ensembles—performed all over the world, including New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles,...
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Reviews

Life and Operas of Verdi is rated 4.5 out of 5 by 67.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Dr. Greenberg Keeps Students Totally Engaged We had listened to several of Dr. Greenberg's series via CD's we would play during our long road trips but had said that we would love to be sitting the class room to watch this dynamo. So when we saw this opportunity to get a DVD of the Verdi Opera lectures, we were all over it. And what we have seen so far has lived up to and surpassed our imaginations. His lectures are so well thought out and delivered that we are on the edge of our seats soaking up the results of his research and organization. We still would love to actually be in a live class room with him.
Date published: 2017-09-22
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Fundamental Problem All the music does not show the actual singers and orchestra. i have attended face to face lecturers where the actual singers and instrument players are shown. This is much better than just listening to the music.
Date published: 2017-09-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from All Verdi extravaganza! I love opera, but I want to know more. I listened to this before going to Italy last summer, and it more than met my expectations. I saw a performance of Don Carlo in Florence, and Professor Greenberg's discussion really helped me understand what was going on in the music. I loved the final discussion of Falstaff, and I wish all the operas could have been discussed in such detail, but I know it isn't possible. One thing I especially loved were the quotes from Verdi's and his friend's and enemies' letters. I felt as if I had an understanding of the man and the great artist at the end of the course. I can't wait to return to Italy and vist Busetto.
Date published: 2017-07-23
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Verbosity personified. Like all of Professor Greenberg's courses, he loves to hear himself talk. The opera ones are particularly bad in this regard. They basically consists of him reading our longs stretches of the libretto followed by taped music. Gets a little tedious.
Date published: 2017-07-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Superb Teacher of Music I'm posting the same review for the many courses offered by Robert Greenberg I have taken. He is superb at explaining music, how it works and why it feels the way it does when you hear it. His courses greatly enhance my appreciation of the music, not just soon after taking his course but over the years thereafter.
Date published: 2017-05-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Love Bob Greenberg's courses This is another winner! Robert Greenberg is the Mark Twain of Musicology and Music History. Witty, informative, original.
Date published: 2017-04-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Clear and appropriate I am a professional musician, and I have enjoyed many of Dr. Greenberg's courses. Although I know a great deal about many of the subjects he lectures on, he always brings new insights, balances important overall concepts with perceptive details, and renews one's enthusiasm for the music and for the miracles of the great composers. I am very pleased that so many people have used these courses as a way to dig deeply into one of life's greatest gifts.
Date published: 2017-04-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful Course My wife and I have watched may 8 music courses from Greenberg and liked them all. This Verdi is my favorite so far. Greenberg combines enough European history to give Verdi's life and time real background. The course is a perfect combination of both the life and the operas (and the requieum). Greenberg is an excellent lecturer who interjects spontaneous humor- or if this is not spontaneous his comedic timing is excellent. I have a strong musical background but knew little about either opera or Verdi. To improve the course I would suggest including more still shots, or better yet, movie clips to enhance the excerpts that are played. I realize this may involve a bit of copyright hassle, but having the scene to see as well as hear would be a significant plus.
Date published: 2017-04-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Professor Greenberg: A masterful teacher! To be short and sweet, while my mom loved opera and had to listen to it when I was a kid, I am not an opera buff, in fact I never listen to it now. However, Professor Greenberg brought Verdi and his operas to life and his lectures were a joy to watch. He did make me want to try to listen to opera, especially Verdi's, to see if I can appreciate them now. This is a great course especially for those who want to know and understand Verdi and even those that had no idea that they might.
Date published: 2017-04-08
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Misleading-lots of books on available on Verdi Too much life, not enough opera! Was expecting more opera and analysis, less about Verdi.
Date published: 2017-03-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Sometimes More is More Chalk up another win for Professor Greenberg. As always many reviews take differing views on his presentation style, varying from childish to amusing to learned. For the most part I fall into the amusing plus learned camp, although I had serious reservations on his silliness in in presenting the libretto of “The Magic Flute” into vernacular English. While I still wish he would not act out the parts of characters in operas, I was not as bothered in this course as I was in Mozart’s operas. But I so appreciate Dr. Greenberg’s enthusiasm for and knowledge of music, opera and that I love many of his over-the-top commentary that I wind up still giving him full marks for his presentation. This set of lectures is titled “The Life and Operas of Verdi”, leaving one to suspect that there are two parts to this course. But more than just discussing Verdi’s life and music, Professor Greenberg goes much further in bringing Verdi the man to life. First, as is usually the case with Dr. Greenberg, the times and society of the subject are brought to vivid life. We get a bit of Italian unification history (important as Verdi played a significant part), some small town provincialism, big city life, country farm life and more. Along the way we see how Verdi grows from a gifted child to full-blown musician, with the failures and triumphs that were a part of his growth. For me Professor Greenberg makes a very fine case in showing us how all of these things made Verdi the man and musician he became. Of course the persons who were important to Verdi and his career are introduced thoroughly and entertainingly. Most especially Margherita, the daughter of Verdi’s first patron, Antonio Barezzi who became his first wife, Verdi’s second wife, Guisepponi Strepponi, and Teresa Stolz with whom Verdi may or may not have had an affair. To be sure, Professor Greenberg does not shy away from bringing to light the unsavory past of Strepponi, Verdi’s entanglement with Stolz (physical or not, certainly an emotional affair), Verdi’s sometimes harsh and almost cruel treatment of his wife and associates any more than he does about citing his virtues, many of them not related to music, such as his generous distribution of his wealth to others or his agreeing to serve in the first Italian Parliament. Professor Greenberg weaves all of this around and through discussing 17 operas (plus the Requiem) along with presenting passages from those operas. Only Falstaff (6 lectures) and Rigoletto (4 lectures) get detailed analysis and only a couple more get more than one lecture. Still I felt that I was given enough to be able to follow Verdi’s compositional growth over his career. Other reviewers wanted more music discussion as would I (but not at the expense of sacrificing the other elements). Even though I have seen many of the discussed operas several times and listened to most of the others more than once, Dr. Greenberg whetted my appetite to get a video recording of “Falstaff”, an opera I have never seen. This more than makes up for the limited discussion of “Othello”, my favorite Verdi opera. Viva Greenberg!
Date published: 2017-03-22
Rated 4 out of 5 by from sprezzatura--almost I watched the DVDs and that was a good option for me because there were sufficient photos and librettos that made learning more efficient. Librettos are reprinted in the Guidebook, but it was good to have onscreen. The Guidebook, at 302 pages, is useful. I liked that this was a mix of Verdi's music and biography. However, he music coverage was not up to Greenberg's expected thoroughness, as in How to Listen to and Appreciate Music. He mostly covers the opera plot and samples the music, although it is not until Falstaff, the closing opera, that Greenberg offers more insight about the music. Generally speaking, I would have appreciated hearing more about the technical aspects of the music. The biography was typically well done, where you not only get a details on Verdi's life, but you also get historical overviews, etc. Impressive and learned a lot, but would have gotten 5 stars if I had learned more about the music. Greenberg's presentation is colorful and genuine. Much appreciated the schoolyard candor.
Date published: 2017-03-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Life and operas of Verdicts As always Dr. Robert Greenberg never fails to disappoint! His passion for what he is teaching is very inspiring and his knowledge of his subject is very impressive!
Date published: 2016-12-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Many enjoyable hours My friends probably wouldn't imagine me being interested in this subject, but my wife has listened to some opera over time and I don't mind hearing it. I bought the course for her, and hadn't really thought of listening myself. Well on a long drive, we began to listen to this course and I was very taken with the both the subject and the presenter. After the trip (I had heard the first 5 lectures) I listened for many enjoyable commutes and listening to the plots of the operas as well as many interesting stories surrounding the life of Verdi. I was sad when I finished. I also have the Mozart Opera's which I haven't started, and How to listen to Opera also from the same presenter. You don't have to know anything about Verdi or Opera ahead of time. This is a great story told by a great story teller, and Dr. Greenberg is perhaps my second favorite presenter after Daniel Robinson. Anyway well worth a chance, and who knows like me you might even look forward to going to some Opera productions!
Date published: 2016-10-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from And I am not a fan of opera The course title promises the "operas" and "life" of Verdi. And that's what Professor Greenberg provides. In addition to dissecting the operas to the extent allowed by time constraints, the course provides the back story and the side story and the rest of the story of Verdi. I am impressed by the research done to capture all the personal letters, reviews, critiques, and personal interactions in the life and career of Giuseppe Verdi. I feel as though I have gotten to know the Maestro. I have taken many courses by Dr. Greenberg and this is another jewel. I'm still not a big fan of opera. But my taste has nothing to do with the high quality of this course and its content.
Date published: 2016-08-15
Rated 1 out of 5 by from You're Kidding My husband and I were astounded that Great Courses can offer DVDs on opera with no video examples of the opera clip being played. The rating I've given this course is for lack of appropriate video backup, NOT Prof. Greenberg's presentation. Opera is a visual art (sets, costumes, makeup, acting, etc.) So, we were astonished to find that the opera clips were a near blank screen with only the name of the opera and the section being played. How else is the viewer supposed to get the full context of the scene being played? I couldn't get through 1 DVD of that, much less the full course! It was the most unsatisfying experience we've had with a course. We're hoping this will be the only one.
Date published: 2016-04-12
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Excessively Lengthy! In this series of 32 lectures, Professor Robert Greenberg covers at great length the operatic compositions of Giuseppe Verdi. Much emphasis is placed on Verdi’s life and on the initial production of his works, which many may not consider of particular interest. Some operas are discussed in excruciating detail, three hours of lecture being devoted for instance to Falstaff, longer than the actual work! Despite Professor Greenberg’s usual energy and enthusiasm, this overload of information may turn out to be irritating to many listeners. In fact, it may lead some who are not already opera buffs to turn away from that art form altogether.
Date published: 2016-01-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Lots to listen to; lots to say OMG. Where do I start with this review? Content? Presentation? Okay. I'll start with presentation. Contrary to other reviewers I love Professor Greenberg's style. His knowledge, passion and sense of humor shine throughout this entire course. The course title is "The Life and Operas of ..." so I object to those who objected to Greenberg's discussion of Verdi's life. And to understand a person's life one frequently has to know about the times within which that life was lived. Would I be a different person if I had grown up, or not, during the Great Depression; if I had grown up, or not, during World War II; if I had grown up, or not, during the Kennedy administration; if I had grown up, or not, during the post-9/11 terrorism fears; if i had grown up, or not, during this digital age? I most definitely would be different based on my experiences and this is why I did not object to, and in fact appreciated, discussions of what was happening during Verdi's life and lifetime. Professor Greenberg's passion for his subject is apparent throughout this course. And his eclectic sense of humor shows that he is a well rounded and well read person. I'm sure some of his analogies are lost on some of the listeners but that's okay. Content? I liked that Professor Greenberg spent time describing the scene that he was about to play. Admittedly he sometimes went overboard on reading the libretto in English, along with goofy voices, but I'd rather that then have no idea what was being sung. The one area of content that caused me to give this otherwise wonderful course only 4 stars was Greenberg taking 6 lectures on Falstaff after only 2 lectures on such masterpieces as Don Carlo, Aida, and Otello. I was tempted to skip through these lectures but didn't want to miss any tidbits about Verdi's life. These only came at the very end of the last lecture. So if you want to skip lectures 27 to 31, go ahead. [I have little experience in attending opera even if it runs in the family. I figured it was because I didn't understand the story. I even went to an opera in English, The Ballad of Baby Doe, and still did not really get it. My mother's maiden name is Verdi, she sang one year at the New York Met, and the family mythology is that we are related to Giuseppe, so I kept trying to understand this medium. I never liked sitting through an entire opera but the music was always played in the house.] This course has made me want to try to see an opera again. There were oblique references to opera on DVD so maybe I can find one of those for starters. And I think I would love a course on specific operas where the content is described interspersed with the music. Professor Greenberg has a whole series of mini-courses on the Great Masters. Maybe he should start a mini-series on the Great Operas, one opera per course. TEACHING COMPANY -- TAKE NOTICE. To sum up my relationship to this course -- it has made me want to delve into opera again. And I think that is a great referral for this course.
Date published: 2015-12-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Music Teaching + Pure Pleasure = Verdi + Greenberg This course provides an excellent overview of Verdi's life and music that's as broad as it is often deep - something that couldn't be gotten anywhere else as far as I know. The only marginal improvement I can imagine would be to have the words being sung shown on screen during musical illustrations [in the language being sung as well as in English] - rather than having to look at just a title page.
Date published: 2015-02-02
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Does this professor also do lectures for adults? With all of the negative comments about Professor Greenberg's juvenile style, I was somewhat hesitant to give my teenage music lover this course as a gift. But even though my son thought the presentation style was too often a bit over the top, he loved it. I found the lectures quite informative when they were not completely silly. And of the music is divine, of course. So if Professor Greenberg ever re-records this course with adults in mind, keeping the same content and enthusiasm, but dropping the shtick, I would be happy to give it 5 stars Would recommend this course to a friend? Yes, with HUGE caveats
Date published: 2015-01-31
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Life & Operas of Verdi The enthusiasm this professor conveys propels his material which is well-researched. What mars the experience for me, an Italian speaker, is the mispronunciation via his placing the accent on the wrong syllable of the cities he cites in Lesson 1. Modena has the accent placed on the first syllable, for instance - not where he places it. He will also place emphasis (where not indicated) on the last syllable. It makes me wonder why his work was not guided by an editor who speaks the language. Lastly, the opera texts are not available while he is playing a selection - we are forced to look at a single slide for the whole of the piece. The speaker is very knowledgeable but appears arrogant as did not seek important information on the language itself to be sure he could offer the most enjoyable experience for any level of listener.
Date published: 2015-01-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Learn what's behind the music and the musician Professor Greenberg makes dynamic presentations. He gives good background on the life of Verdi, and provides context and libretto for the opera selections that he plays. Knowing the story helped us appreciate the singing. Understanding the context of Verdi's life and times helps explain why the composer is such a genius and so respected. We've been pleasantly surprised to find ourselves enjoying opera.
Date published: 2015-01-13
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Promise and Pain I have given Robert Greenberg some of my most positive and enthusiastic reviews. In my view, he teaches music so beautifully and powerfully he's one of the best professors in the entire stable of faculty assembled by The Great Courses. But, for reasons I'll spell out below, I can only give this course a fair rating. First, the positives. I'm a huge fan of Verdi. I've seen and heard virtually all of these operas several times. They're remarkable, both musically and dramatically. Indeed, artistically, he is very high on my list. And I consider myself pretty discriminating. As I mentioned earlier, I like Greenberg's teaching of music very much. And, though there are very serious shortcomings, he does some good teaching here. The portions of the operas that are played in the course are quite good. Regardless of the course's shortcomings, it's always fine to hear segments of these wonderful operas. In my judgment, Greenberg made a fatal mistake when he decided to try to act out long portions of the words and narratives in the operas. I realize the problem he was trying to solve. Many listeners don't have the course guidebook in front of them. The ones that do don't need to listen to Greenberg act out the libretto. They can follow it as the music plays. Others can't. Yet, listening to him more often than not is a price students shouldn't have to pay. There are professors who teach for TGC who are masterful at singing and acting as part of their teaching . Professors Weil and Heffernan come to mind. Greenberg is terrible at this. I have tried to think of characters from 1960s cartoons whose voices sound like Greenberg's in his characterizations. Dudley Dooright comes to mind. Tweety and Sylvester do, too. The silly girlish voice he uses for many female roles is a sound I can't place among the cartoon characters, though it was utterly annoying. Other than the comic Falstaff and the music of the Requiem, Greenberg's attempts to act out the roles of the serious operas is nothing short of butchery. It's painful to the ear, so painful that I began about half way through the course to skip through it to the actual music and would encourage you to as well, if you buy this course. Beyond the pain of experiencing the "acting," this feature of the course is disadvantageous for another reason. The time Greenberg spends on the acting as well as the too-often flabby and often tangential biographical and historical material robs him of the time he should have spent on what he does so well - the exploration and analysis of the music itself. There's value in this course. But, oh, it could and should have been so much more.
Date published: 2014-11-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Let the Fat Lady Sing! In sixty years I have attended one opera (under coercion): too long, too implausible, too stiff. In the past week I've watched recordings of two Verdi operas and enjoyed them both. I pursue Great Courses precisely because they open new ideas for me in a meaningful way. No one's better at it than Dr. Greenburg. For what it's worth, I enjoy his often irreverent style, including the voices and jokes.
Date published: 2014-09-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wow. I just finished the Verdi series. Wow. Justice was done.
Date published: 2014-06-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very good, could have been a little better The course title is an accurate one, because Greenberg goes into the life of Verdi as much as if not more than the operas themselves. He starts with a great first lecture which paints a broad picture of Italian culture and language, delving into the art, food, history, movies, and women. He does touch upon how the sound and rhythm of the Italian language shapes his operas. The first lecture is great for those interested more in Italian culture than opera. He then proceeds chronologically through Verdi’s compositional career, pausing often to go into his life events and politics of Italy. He describes how the early period includes Nabucco, and his middle period consists of Rigoletto, Il Trovatore, and La Traviata, and late period of Aida, Otello, and Falstaff. He does also discuss several other works, and has great taste in his music selections. I really love and still play his selections from Il Trovatore and La Traviata. Therein lies the greatest fault in my eyes, which is the scandalously short amount of time devoted to these 2 operas in particular. He spends much of the (less than) 2 lectures devoted to these 2 masterworks talking about other topics such as politics or his life with his singer wife. Another opera which was robbed was Un Ballo in Maschera, which also had most of its 2 lectures stray away from the music. I understand he can only give in-depth treatment to 2 operas (Rigoletto and Falstaff), but I feel he could have cut back on the politics or history enough to give each of these 3 operas a full lecture to itself. He could have cut back on the many more obscure works if they were at the expense of the big ones. He does refer the listener to his opera course for more on Otello and La Traviata than is covered here. The professor clearly loves to play historian or political historian and is able to skillfully illuminate their influence on Verdi’s music. Verdi dominated the Italian opera scene from 1850-1890, and was revered as a legend in his own time. The course does a great job of illuminating his personality, and is ample motivation to seek out recordings and performances of Verdi.
Date published: 2013-01-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very enlightening I just completed this course and couldn't wait to get into my car and listen to another session. It was so enlightening. I learned so much about Verdi and his works. A perfect combination of his music and life. I am now looking for similar works on Wagner, Mozart and Beethoven.
Date published: 2012-10-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Glorious Ask me a simple question and I'll give a simple answer. Could this course be better? No.
Date published: 2012-10-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding course! I wanted to write this review in part to express my gratitude to Professor Greenberg and to respond to a few of the criticisms I have read amidst mostly superlative evaluations. I do this because I wouldn't want the professor to change a thing in his presentation. I ordered his course on Verdi out of mild curiosity and a slight interest in opera. I am now a lover of his music, someone who scans You Tube for renditions of the quartet in Rigoletto and who listens to the Requiem over and over. On top of that, Professor Greenberg communicates not only his passion and deep love for Verdi's music but also his respect and admiration for Verdi as a man of the utmost artistic and personal integrity. The lectures are enthralling, informative, and, dare I say, laugh out loud funny. This is not a criticism- having fun while you are learning is not felonious behavior. Professor Greenberg- please stay as you are - you are a brilliant and inspiring teacher.
Date published: 2012-09-19
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Good Material but Greenberg Talks too Much! I have listened to several of Greenberg's courses and always come away with the same feeling - He presents a great deal of information that directly related to his topic (including pretty good musical analysis), some good anecdotes that add depth, and sadly a tremendous amount of blather that makes it hard to fully recommend his courses. He often sounds like a baseball announcer, using slang, drops in cartoon voices (his Duke in Rigoletto was just dreadful), etc -- Some may find this entertaining but ultimately I find that it detracts -- you just want to skip over a lot what he has to say on repeated listening.
Date published: 2012-09-01
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