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Fatherly Love: Verdi's 'Simon Boccanegra'

Families have always made great subject matter for dramatic entertainment. Happy families, quarreling families, dysfunctional families, even tragic families they all make for captivating stories, maybe because nearly everyone can identify with the rewards and struggles of family life.

Looking back at what some consider the "golden age" of American television, it was happy families that seemed the most popular — in particular families blessed with a father's wisdom. Robert Young in Father Knows Best and Fred MacMurray in My Three Sons are just two examples of the many firm but kindly fathers who populated TV in the 1950s and '60's. It was a great time for fathers and their kids — at least in Hollywood.

But go back a hundred years or so, to another form of popular entertainment, and you'll find a different sort of family life altogether — and a great composer who was a master at setting it to music.

Giuseppe Verdi's own life as a father was tragic, almost from the beginning. His first wife died, as did their two children, while Verdi was still in his 20s. At the time, he was just getting his start as an opera composer. As he grew more and more successful, he often relied on tragic stories, featuring the deep love between fathers and their children — and especially between fathers and daughters.

One famous example is Rigoletto, an opera in which the title character — a truly devoted father — inadvertently causes his own daughter's death.

Verdi also featured a poignant, father-daughter relationship in his potboiler Stiffelio, and one between a concerned father and his sort-of-daughter-in-law in La Traviata. And just a few years after Traviata, Verdi created a father-daughter bond that may top all the others. It's the centerpiece of his dark and intensely emotional opera Simon Boccanegra.

Just as Verdi seemed to spend a lot of time pondering fathers and their daughters, he also took quite a while to come to grips with Simon Boccanegra. The opera began life in the 1850s, but the final version didn't take shape until 1881. Even then, it took a long time for the opera to earn its way among so many Verdi masterpieces. But by now, it's widely recognized as one of the most complex and moving of all his great tragedies.

On World of Opera, host Lisa Simeone presents Simon Boccanegra from one of the world's great musical venues, the Vienna State Opera. Baritone Leo Nucci stars in the title role, with soprano Roxana Briban as his daughter, Amelia, in a production led by conductor Yves Abel.

See the previous edition of World of Opera or the full archive

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