Verdi and the cinema
In its first century of life cinema took over the place in popular culture that had been held by the art form which had been the fulcrum of Western civilisation throughout the 19th century: Opera. This transformation is told in Bertolucci’s Novecento with a village miser who travels around the plain of the river Po with costumes from Rigoletto shouting out “Verdi l’è mort-Verdi is dead!”
However even if Verdi never directly experienced the cinema which was invented just six years before his death, he has had an extremely long life on the both the big and small screen.
Giuseppe Verdi was released in 1938, in the fascist period. It was the work of Carmine Gallon,the director of Scipione l’africano. In 1953 it wasa followed by another somewhat more melodramtic biopic directed by Raffaello Matarazzo. In the1980’s it was the turn of television, which was rapidly overtaking cinema in popularity, with the “Swan of Busseto”.
In 1982 RAI (in partnership with Antenne 2, Bavaria Film, BBC, and soviet TV) produced a passionate and compelling, nine episode dramatisation of Verdi’s life directed by Renato Castellani. Castellani’s series recreates Verdi’s life in great detail taking us from his birth to his funeral, and clips can be viewed on this site. The director spent eight years researching and documenting the maestro’s life receiving help from Roman Vlad and the Institute of Verdi studies (Istituto di Studi Verdiani).
And then, there is another Verdi whose music inhabits the cinema, with its architectural narrative, and dramaturgy. How can one forget Bernardo Bertolucci’s production set in Emilia Romagna which literally feeds off Verdi or the band playing la Traviata at the wedding in the Godfather (1971, Francis Ford Coppola) or in the Gattopardo (Luchino Visconti) where during a scene in church the Te Deum is preceeded by “ Amami Alfredo” and the more mystical Requiem in Andrej Tarkovsij’s Nostalghia (1983). The theme of the bicentenary celebrations also crops up in Dustin Hoffman’s Quartet, a cinema adaption of Ronald Harwwin’s stage play, which is in cinemas at the beginning of this year 2013. The main characters are all residents in a retirement home for opera singers and every year they organise a concert to celebrate the Maestro’s birthday on the 10th October.