Giuseppe Verdi's 'Il Corsaro'
Verdi's bombastic, 1848 opera Il Corsaro, or The Pirate, is a rarity several times over.
The world of pirates – dashing, seafaring pirates, not today's digital, Internet pirates – has always made great material for action and adventure stories, and there are plenty of examples. From Eroll Flynn in the 1935 Hollywood classic Captain Blood, to Johnny Depp in the recent Pirates of the Caribbean films, pirates have made great movie heroes. The term "swashbuckler" seems to have been invented for them, and Captain Blood also features some great, swashbuckling music, with a score by Oscar-winner Erich Wolfgang Korngold.
Somehow, though, pirates haven't been so popular at the opera, except maybe in "backstory." There are plenty of operas that start off after their characters have been victimized by pirates. Often they've been kidnapped, hauled off to some foreign land, and sold to the local despot. Then, once the opera's action begins, they're rescued in heroic fashion, or risk death to escape. But there are very few operas with pirates themselves in the leading roles, and that alone makes Verdi's Il Corsaro a bit of a rare bird.
Verdi's pirate opera is also unusual in other ways. It wasn't exactly a smash hit when it was premiered in 1848, and the composer was unaccustomed to flops. More strangely, Verdi didn't seem to care much about the piece. He nearly always micromanaged the premieres of his operas, but he didn't even bother to attend this one. Before long, the opera fell off the map altogether.
In some ways, we'll admit, the fate of Il Corsaro is understandable. The story has a few holes, and Verdi wrote plenty of operas with more compelling music. But when it comes to opera, Verdi on his worst day was more than a match for just about everyone else in the business. So any chance to hear one of the Verdi operas that generally fly under the radar is a welcome opportunity.
On this edition of World of Opera host Lisa Simeone brings us Il Corsaro from an organization that specializes in deserving but neglected operas. Since 1972, Opera Orchestra of New York has brought dozens of such works to life in concert performances at one of the world's great musical venues, New York City's Carnegie Hall.
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