What could be more stirring than an Italian opera chorus at full throttle? When it came to resuming their friendly Team Wagner vs Team Verdi rivalry, Elisabeth and Mark actually reached an easy consensus, for once. While Wagner has many of the best choral moments, Verdi wrote the best self-contained operatic choruses. Indeed, their initial plans for a top ten opera choruses quickly morphed into an exclusively Verdian playlist!

Click the link to listen to our playlist on the streaming service, IDAGIO:

https://www.idagio.com/playlists/bachtrack-top-ten-verdi-choruses  

 

1Nabucco: "Va, pensiero"

“Va, pensiero” – the Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves – truly deserves to be in pole position. It’s a hugely emotional piece, almost regarded as the unofficial Italian anthem. Nabucco was Verdi’s breakthrough opera, but its composition came after a time of unbelievable grief. His wife and two infant children had recently died. He was a broken man and had vowed never to compose again. The impresario of La Scala offered him a libretto for consideration: Nabucco. Taking it home, he threw it angrily on the table… and it opened on the page “Va pensiero, sull' ali dorate” (Fly, thought, on golden wings). This miraculous chorus was the result. [Mark]

2Don Carlo: "Spuntato ecco il dì d’esultanza" (Auto-da-fé)

“What a day, what a day for an auto-da-fé! It's a lovely day for drinking and for watching people fry!” The lyrics are from Bernstein’s Candide, but the sentiment is shared in Verdi’s Don Carlos as the crowd gathers in front of the cathedral at Valladolid for an auto-da-fé. Bells ring, the expectant crowd rejoices, monks lead in the condemned heretics, and King Philip II arrives in great pomp. A thrilling chorus. [Mark]

3Macbeth: "Patria oppressa"

After the witches' prophecy and driven by his determined wife, Macbeth has killed Duncan and ascended the Scottish throne. To help save Scotland from Macbeth’s tyranny and avenge the deaths of his wife and children, Macduff and his army arrive at the border between England and Scotland where Scottish refugees have set up a camp. They sing of the fate of their oppressed land which has become “a tomb for their sons”, the bell that “constantly tolls for death” and how “no one sheds a vain tear for the suffering and dying”. Sadly, this topic is as current as it was to Shakespeare’s and Verdi’s times. [Elisabeth]

4La battaglia di Legnano: "Giuriam d'Italia por fine ai danni"

Verdi really knew how to fire up his audience. In La battaglia di Legnano, the warriors of the Lombard League stand up to Federico Barbarossa, the occupying German Emperor. In Act 3, tenor hero Arrigo is inducted into “The Knights of Death” who, in this patriotic chorus, swear an oath to fight to the death. Stirring stuff, which went down a storm at the première (and went down a storm with Elisabeth!). Verdi giving the Risorgimento its own opera. [Mark]

5Nabucco: "Gli arredi festivi"

We tried to restrain ourselves to one chorus per opera, but how could we not include the opening chorus of Nabucco, “Gli arredi festivi”, in our list?! Hebrews and Levites are assembled in the Temple of Solomon, lamenting their fate, defeated by Nabucco, the Babylonian king, who is advancing on their city. In their desperation, they call for the help of their God, who seems to have abandoned them. It’s another one of Verdi’s devastating choruses. [Elisabeth]

6Il trovatore: "Squilli, echeggi la tromba" (Soldiers’ Chorus)

The Soldiers’ Chorus is just one of two great choruses in Trovatore, the Anvil (or Gypsy) Chorus being the other one. At the beginning of Act 3, the Count di Luna lays siege to the fortress Castellor, where Manrico and Leonora have taken refuge. The soldiers are gambling, cleaning their weapons and getting ready to fight and claim glory – “May the attack on Castellor no longer be put off!” [Elisabeth]

7Otello: "Fuoco di gioia!"

After the terrific opening tempest, the Cypriots celebrate Otello’s safe return by lighting a bonfire and drinking. Verdi deploys the chorus like an orchestra, phrases flicker and and flare between sections, woven together by a busy piccolo. [Mark]

8I vespri siciliani: "Si celebri alfine"

It is Elena and Arrigo’s wedding day and the crowds gather before the Church of Santo Spirito to celebrate this “pledge of love” and the “end of so many pains”. It’s such a cheerful chorus, full of joy and hope – and castanets! – that this union between a Sicilian and the son of the French governor of Sicily brings the long-desired peace. Little do they know about Procida’s plot and their imminent fate once the wedding bells ring… [Elisabeth]

9Aida: "Gloria all'Egitto – Marcia trionfale – Vieni, o guerriero, vindice"

The Grand March from Aida is instantly recognisable to many listeners, but it is the centrepiece of a great triumphal scene, where the Egyptians welcome home their soldiers fresh from their victory over neighbouring Ethiopians. In this brassy chorus, the crowds praise the goddess Isis, although it’s best to overlook Edmund Tracey’s dated English translation: “You who protect and shelter, Our King who rules the Delta”! [Mark]

10Messa da Requiem: Dies irae 

Hans von Bülow once described Verdi's Requiem as “an opera in ecclesiastical garb” and it’s hard to disagree, being so close to his operas, especially Aida: grand processional music of triumph, trumpets surround a severe judgement scene in the Dies irae, and release through death. It adds operatic passion and emotional intensity to religious grandeur, making it one of Verdi’s most shattering “operatic” choruses. [Elisabeth]