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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Verdi and the evolution of the Aida libretto Kitson, John Richard


Study of the documentation pertaining to the evolution of Verdi's operas from Ernani (1844) to Falstaff (1893) reveals that, in many cases, the composer was pre-eminently the creator of large parts of the texts. Verdi worked very closely with his poets and other advisors preparing and reviewing synopses and groundplans, writing scenarios and draft prose librettos, before the versification of the final text was undertaken. Draft libretto materials and the correspondence between Verdi and his librettists are in various states of preservation. With the exception of Aida, however, not a single opera is represented by a complete array of preparatory libretto materials and correspondence that represents each step in the construction of a versified libretto. A complete collection of the autograph libretto documents for Aida (1870-71) exists in Verdi's villa at Sant'Agata. The collection contains a French-language scenario by Auguste Mariette; modifications made to the scenario by Camille Du Locle and Verdi; a prose libretto for the complete opera written by Verdi; and the drafts and revisions of the versified libretto written by Antonio Ghislanzoni under Verdi's supervision. For a considerable time these autograph mss. were not available for study. In 1979, the American Institute for Verdi Studies in New York received permission to film the collection for its archive. Study and comparison of these texts has made it possible to explore fully the extent of Verdi's involvement in the creation of the Aida libretto and, ultimately, to recognize him as principal librettist for this opera. This dissertation contains eight chapters and seven appendices. Chapter I explores the extent of Verdi's participation in the writing of the librettos for his operas (except Aida). Chapter II studies the musicological literature dealing with Verdi as librettist. The peculiar history of the scholarly (and unscholarly) literature about the Aida libretto is reconstructed in Chapter III. Chapter IV recounts the genesis of the Aida project in the light of Verdi's correspondence. Chapter V comprises a comparison of Mariette's scenario and the modifications made to it by Verdi and Du Locle. Verdi's prose libretto, which is based on the Mariette scenario and the modifications as well as new material written by Verdi himself, is studied in Chapter VI. Of particular interest is the fact that in his prose libretto Verdi created a musical masterplan for the entire opera: throughout the new text, the composer imposed his musical requirements by prescribing the layout of the recitative and lyrical sections when such treatment was not easily discernable in the prose dialogue. Chapter VII explains the lack of order in the manuscript containing Ghislanzoni's first draft and revisions of the versified Aida libretto. In the final chapter, the Ghislanzoni manuscript is studied in the light of Verdi's extensive role in the versification process. Four pertinent facts are made clear: Verdi provided Ghislanzoni with the complete prose libretto, which served as the basis of the versification; Verdi continued to create new prose models for scenes he perceived to be perplexed by serious faults once he had studied Ghislanzoni's poetry or had attempted to set it to music; the composer insisted that the poet retain all items of dialogue and stage directions given in Verdi's model libretto; by a continuous interchange of letters with Ghislanzoni, Verdi exposed a whole series of interrelated problems in Ghislanzoni's drafts, and proposed possible solutions for each. Clearly, Verdi was principal librettist of this opera. The seven appendices contain texts from the autograph manuscripts given in microfilm 56 in the Archive, American Institute for Verdi Studies, New York, translations of Italian-language librettos contained therein, and an overview of Italian prosody.

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