The purpose of this research is to describe, compare and contrast two operas of Giuseppe verdi, one from the middle period (Rigoletto, La Traviata, Il Trovatore), with one from the late period (Otello, Falstaff), musically and dramatically, as well as contextually. The two will be Traviata, because it is his most popular (Aida notwithstanding), and Falstaff, because it is his masterpiece, and the final opera of his career.
This will be attempted by cursorily placing Verdi, both young and old, in his historical context, then by describing and comparing the first act of each of the operas. The first act was chosen because second acts need not be as strong, and third acts are concerned with denouement. There is not sufficient space here to even approach a full explanation of these magnificent works of art; it will be assumed that the reader is somewhat familiar with the two operas.
Despite amazing differences in Verdi's style of composition from the beginning of his career (with his first real success Nabucco) to the end, the proces of continuous comprehensive development is quite marked. Verdi's unifying concern was writing opera in the sense that opera is a marriage of symphonic music and dramatic poetry. This is distinguished from plays with incidental music (which is why Elmer Bernstein's film scores are no more, or less, operatic than Beethoven's music for Egmont) on one end. On the other is dramatic set pieces with great music but little theatrical content (the Messiah of Handel is a great oratorio, but the theater of the music is implied in our knowledge of scripture, not contained in the work itself.) The successors of Handel are the musical comedy writers (even the ones who wrote tragedies).
But the opera derives its meaning from a marriage of the two. Probably the first genuine example of this is in Mozart. To paraphrase Tovey, the success of the opera was based on its drama, but its immortality on its musi...