Our first work for the evening was an extremely controversial opera in its day. Giuseppe Verdi was commissioned in 1850 by the La Fenice opera house in Venice to write an opera, and he eventually chose to base his work on a play by Victor Hugo, Le roi s’amuse. Hugo’s play had been banned in France, and the local authorities (Venice was under Austrian control at the time) did not take too kindly to the play’s depiction of an immoral and cynical king. After extensive negotiation between Verdi, Francesco Maria Piave (Verdi’s librettist) and the censors, they eventually agreed to move the action to the Dukedom of Mantua and to make the immoral king into a duke, so as not to risk offending anyone. With these and other changes, the work became known as Rigoletto. It was premiered on March 11, 1851, and was a major success. It currently ranks as the 10th most performed opera in the repertoire.
For our second work of the evening, we have a song cycle by Robert Schumann. Myrthen, Op. 25, was published in October 1840, and was written as a gift for his bride Clara on the occasion of their wedding. Schumann used love poems from a number of notable poets, including Robert Burns, Friedrich Rückert, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Heinrich Heine, Lord Byron and Thomas Moore. The piece was written for alternating soprano and tenor. Tonight’s recording is by Lynne Dawson, Ian Partridge, with accompaniment by Julius Drake.