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Commentary

27 Aug 2019

Verdi Treasures from Milan’s Ricordi Archive make US debut

Rare testimonies to the history of Italian opera from the Milan-based, Bertelsmann-owned Ricordi Archive will now be shown in the United States for the first time. Fans of classical music and literature can look forward to the exhibition “Verdi: Creating Otello and Falstaff - Highlights from the Ricordi Archive”, which will be on view at the renowned Morgan Library & Museum in New York from September 6, 2019 to January 5, 2020.

The exhibition traces the genesis and realization of Verdi’s last two operas, Otello and Falstaff, using original scores, libretti, selected correspondence, set and costume designs, and more. Giuseppe Verdi - alongside Giacomo Puccini, Gaetano Donizetti, Vincenzo Bellini, and Gioachino Rossini - is one of the five great names of 19th century Italian opera whose works were published by Casa Ricordi and documented in its Archivio Storico Ricordi. The Ricordi Archive is regarded as one of the world’s foremost privately owned music collections. The Morgan Library & Museum complements the exhibition with rarities from its own collection, including early editions of texts by William Shakespeare, whose dramaturgical material served as the basis for the operas Otello and Falstaff.

This combination of materials from the two great institutions under the guidance of curators Fran Barulich and Gabriele Dotto gives visitors a unique opportunity to gain first-hand insights into the European cultural scene of the late 19th century. The supporting program of the exhibition also includes a concert with Verdi arias, a screening of Franco Zeffirellis Otello, and a lecture with experts from the Ricordi Archive.

Colin B. Bailey, Director of the Morgan Library & Museum, said: “We are delighted to present these highlights from the Ricordi Archive, showing how Italy’s pre-eminent composer shaped what would become two of his crowning achievements, Otello and Falstaff. A collection of set designs, costumes from Milan’s Teatro alla Scala, autograph manuscripts, contracts, publications, publicity, video excerpts from recent productions, as well as objects from the Morgan’s collection enable visitors to experience the tremendous collaborative efforts behind an operatic production.”

Thomas Rabe, Chairman & CEO of Bertelsmann, said: “The name Ricordi stands for 200 years of Italian opera and music history. As the owners of the Ricordi Archive, we are very aware of the importance of this European cultural asset and take responsibility for its sustained preservation, care and development. Exhibitions like the one in New York, in partnership with the Morgan Library, are a great opportunity to keep the creative work of earlier generations alive and to reach audiences beyond the musicological community.”

The richly textured exhibition “Verdi: Creating Otello and Falstaff - Highlights from the Ricordi Archive” describes the creative process of the two world-famous operas - from initial deliberations about commissioning the celebrated composer to the premieres of Otello in 1887 and Falstaff in 1893. The idea for Otello first arose in 1879, when Verdi was 65, but he did not begin to work on the project in earnest for several more years, when he was in his 70s. There was almost a 16-year hiatus between the 1887 premiere of Otello and the 1871 premiere of Aida. His Milanese publisher Giulio Ricordi teamed up with the librettist Arrigo Boito to develop a diplomatic strategy for luring “the old bear” out of retirement at his country home in Sant’Agata. Their plan worked, and applying his mature compositional skills to two brilliant libretti by Boito, Verdi created two of the greatest operas ever composed. Giulio Ricordi was ultimately responsible for marketing and managing the two large-scale productions. The exhibition thus provides a deep insight into the work of three geniuses who formed a kind of “business community.”

The partnership with the Morgan Library & Museum offers additional material that enriches the Ricordi exhibition: Shakespeare’s First and Second Folios, rare editions of scores and libretti, contemporary publicity material, an autograph letter from Verdi’s wife, and autograph sketches for Otello.

The New York exhibition represents a new milestone in the presentation of the Ricordi Archive to the public: In Verdi Year 2013 - the composer’s bicentennial - the archive’s treasures were first presented in Germany as the curtain-raiser to a traveling exhibition that toured Europe. At the time, the “Enterprise of Opera: Verdi. Boito. Ricordi” exhibition was shown in Berlin and Gütersloh and subsequently in Brussels, Milan and Vincenza. It now forms the basis for the forthcoming exhibition in New York.

The Ricordi Archive houses a total of some 7,800 original scores from more than 600 operas and hundreds of other compositions; approximately 10,000 libretti; an extensive iconographic collection with precious original stage and costume designs; and a vast amount of historical business correspondence of Casa Ricordi. Founded in 1808 by Giovanni Ricordi in Milan, the Italian music publisher had a fundamental influence on the cultural history of Italy and Europe. Bertelsmann, the international media company which also includes the BMG music group and the New York-based trade publishing group Penguin Random House, bought Casa Ricordi in 1994, but sold the music company and Ricordi’s music rights in subsequent years. Only the associated Ricordi Archive remained within the group. Since then, Bertelsmann has had the archived items comprehensively indexed, digitized and, in many cases, restored. The company also organizes concerts and exhibitions to keep Casa Ricordi’s cultural heritage alive and make it accessible to as many people as possible.

Programs:

· Gallery Talks “Verdi: Creating Otello and Falstaff - Highlights from the Ricordi Archive” Friday, September 13, 6pm Friday, November 15, 1pm

· Films, “Otello” Friday, September 20, 7:00pm; “Tosca’s Kiss” Friday, October 18, 7:00 pm

· Family Program Curtain’s Up! Theatrical Design at the Morgan Saturday, September 21, 11:00 am Dance: Inspired by Verdi Saturday, November 9, 2:00pm

· Concerts George London Foundation Recitals Sunday, October 20, 4:00pm

· Lectures and Discussions “Verdi and the Ricordi Archive”: An Evening with Pierluigi Ledda and Gabrielle Dotto Wednesday, October 2, 6:30pm “Le Conversazioni: Films of My Life” Thursday December 5, 7:00pm

For more information about the exhibition, hours, and admission, visit www.themorgan.org.

For more information about the Ricordi Archive visit https://www.archivioricordi.com/en or https://www.bertelsmann.com.

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