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Verdi's 'Simon Boccanegra'

If Giuseppe Verdi had done nothing more than compose operas, he'd still have been one of the most admired figures in Western music. But Verdi was more than just a great composer — he was also a great man.

The composer lent his wealth and reputation to any number of causes — some of them quite risky. Politically, his work and personal integrity helped to inspire a generation of Italians in their struggle for independence, and he often faced the wrath of government censors as a result. He was even urged to run for public office, and he was popular enough to have won handily.

All of this was serious business, to match Verdi's personality. He wasn't exactly a barrel of laughs. Of his more than two dozen operas only two were comedies, and one of those was his very first opera — seldom heard today.

Still, even Verdi himself once referred to the opera we've got here as, "too sad and desolate." It's the somber, historical drama Simon Boccanegra, named for a real life Doge of Genoa who lived in the 1300's. The story is almost unrelentingly gloomy. The opera has no moments even approaching levity and the whole thing has an air of death about it right from the start.

But don't let any of that scare you away. Simone Boccanegra also has a tremendously complex and sympathetic title character, and some of the most beautiful music Verdi ever wrote. What's more, World of Opera host Lisa Simeone brings us a Houston Grand Opera production featuring Dmitri Hvorostovsky, one of the most outstanding baritones in the world today.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.