Examples of the Scholarship of the Critical Edition
From Rigoletto, edited by Martin Chusid.
N. 11, Scena e Canzone, mm. 18-56, pages 258–59. • In pre-unification Italy, opera librettos were routinely subjected to the close scrutiny of political and religious authorities, who often required alterations to the poetry. At the beginning of Act 3 of Rigoletto (1851), the Duke of Mantua enters Sparafucile’s inn and asks for the company of Sparafucile’s sister, Maddalena, and for some wine (“Tua sorella, e del vino!”). The censors in Venice objected to this explicit request for the company of a woman and demanded that the words be changed. For over a century, the only version we knew was one in which the Duke requested to have a room and some wine (“Una stanza e del vino!”). This is utterly nonsensical, as the Duke asks to spend the night at the inn a few minutes later. The original, uncensored text is still legible in Verdi’s autograph manuscript, and was reinstated for the first time in this critical edition. A footnote directs the reader to the Critical Commentary (not reproduced here), which describes the sources and the rationale for the replacement. The scene is followed by the celebrated aria “La donna è mobile,” whose beginning is reproduced on the second page of this sample.
From La traviata, edited by Fabrizio Della Seta.
N. 8, Scena Violetta, mm. 100-26, pages 331–32. • In Act 3 of La traviata, Violetta is on her deathbed. Alone, she reads a letter from Giorgio Germont, announcing that he and her beloved Alfredo will visit her soon. Verdi prescribed that the soprano should read this passage “con voce bassa senza suono ma a tempo” (in a low voice without sound but a tempo). Most conventional editions do not clearly indicate how Verdi laid out the poetry, leading to misinterpretation and mistakes. The critical edition, however, shows how Verdi wrote out this extraordinary passage; the text is underlined to indicate that this is passage is spoken rather than sung. On the following page, signs of articulation and dynamics, such as slurs and crescendo hairpins, are continuous when they derive directly from Verdi’s autograph and dashed when they are extended by the editor. At mm. 123-4 the articulation is significantly different from what is transmitted in most editions.
From Alzira, edited by Stefano Castelvecchi with the collaboration of Jonathan Cheskin.
Sinfonia: Reduction for Piano Solo, mm. 1-37, page 415. • Volumes in The Works of Giuseppe Verdi routinely contain appendices providing fragments, drafts, and alternate passages related to each opera and traceable to the composer. The critical edition of Alzira provides an arrangement for piano solo of the Sinfonia, prepared by the composer himself. The autograph manuscript is preserved in the library of the Accademia Filarmonica in Bologna, Italy (I-Baf). There are some interesting differences between this reduction and the orchestral version of the piece; as the Introduction to this edition makes clear, such differences should be attributed to the different medium rather than to changed compositional aims.
From Attila, edited by Helen M. Greenwald.
N. 5, Scena e Cavatina Foresto, mm. 128-45, pages 114–15. • The Works of Giuseppe Verdi distinguishes clearly between stage directions derived from printed librettos (always printed in parentheses) and those entered by Verdi himself into his autograph manuscripts. The latter are printed without parentheses and spaced exactly as in the source, providing important insights into how Verdi wished to coordinate music and visible action. In this passage from Attila, Verdi’s placement of the stage direction shows how Foresto and women, men, and children from Aquileia should only be identified by the hermits after the chorus has sung the first phrase. Timing is key. Such stage directions are not necessarily binding, and stage directors can use them as they see fit. But this example and many others in The Works of Giuseppe Verdi clearly indicate that Verdi thought carefully about how to maximize the dramatic effect of a number of scenes through careful placement of stage directions in his scores.