Composers Datebook®

Verdi passes on the pyramids

Composers Datebook - Dec. 24, 2023
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Synopsis

On today’s date in 1871, the Opera House of Cairo, Egypt, presented the world premiere of Giuseppe Verdi’s Aida. The khedive of Egypt commissioned the opera for his new theater, which had opened in 1869 with a production of Verdi’s Rigoletto.

Here’s how Verdi described it to his publisher, in Verdi's customary laconic fashion: “I was invited to write an opera for a very distant country. I replied, ‘No’. I was approached again and offered a very large sum. I still said, ‘No’. A month later, I was sent a printed synopsis and told it was the work of a person in high authority (which I don’t believe). Even so, I found it excellent and replied that I would set it to music on such and such terms. Three days later, I received a telegram that read: Accepted.”

For his efforts, the 58-year-old Verdi received four times his usual fee — and the honorary title of Commendatore of the Ottoman Order. The Cairo premiere was a great success, even though Verdi chose to spend his Christmas Eve at home, arranging for the Italian premiere of his Egyptian opera at Milan’s La Scala opera house early the following year.

Music Played in Today's Program

Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901) Grand March, from Aida; New York Philharmonic; Leonard Bernstein, cond. Sony 48226

On This Day

Births

  • 1879 - Russian composer and pianist Nicolai Medtner (see Jan. 5, 1880);

  • 1881 - American composer Charles Wakefield Cadman, in Johnstown, Pa.;

  • 1950 - American composer Libby Larsen, in Wilmington, Del.;

Deaths

  • 1453 - English composer John Dunstable, age c. 65, in London;

  • 1935 - Austrian composer Alban Berg, age 50, in Vienna;

  • 1975 - American composer and conductor Bernard Herrmann, age 64, in Los Angeles, after completing the filmscore for Scorsese's "Taxi Driver";

Premieres

  • 1739 - Handel: revival performance of oratorio "Acis and Galetea" (Julian date: Dec. 13);

  • 1871 - Verdi: opera "Aida" in Cairo, Egypt, at the Khedival Theater;

  • 1951 - Menotti: opera "Amahl and the Night Visitors" as a TV broadcast on the NBC network; According to Opera America magazine, this is one of the most frequently-produced American operas during the past decade;

Others

  • 1920 - Last operatic appearance ever of the Italian tenor Enrico Caruso, in an evening performance of Halevy's "La Juive" (The Jewess) at the old Metropolitan Opera in New York City; Caruso would die in Naples (where he made his operatic debut on March 15, 1895) at the age of 48 on August 2, 1921;

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

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