The Start of Something Big: Verdi's 'Oberto'

WOO-1206-VerdiThere's an old saying that, "The third time's the charm," and while it may seem like an arbitrary observation, there are at least three, great theatrical careers that appear to bear it out.

In 1971, George Lucas made his directorial debut with the science fiction thriller THX 1138. It was pretty much overlooked at the time. But when his third feature, Star Wars, became a sci-fi sensation, movie lovers began giving Lucas's first film a second chance. By now, many see it as an indicator of Lucas's future brilliance.

In the same year, Steven Spielberg directed his first feature film, the full-length TV movie Duel. It didn't get much attention. But, like Lucas, Spielberg became a star two movies later, with Jaws. After that, Duel gained newfound acclaim as the work of a budding genius.

Another artist who made it big with his third effort began his career about 130 years earlier. Giuseppe Verdi's third opera, Nabucco, premiered in 1842, and was an instant hit. Before long, the opera's famous chorus "Va, pensiero" had become a sort of unofficial national anthem, and it's still one of Verdi's most popular numbers today.

But Verdi's first opera was another story. It's called Oberto, and though it premiered at a top-notch venue, Milan's La Scala, it was only a modest success. It wasn't until Nabucco put Verdi on the map that audiences began seeing Oberto as a sign of great things to come.

When Verdi's Oberto debuted in Milan, in 1839, the composer was 26, and the opera had already been in progress for about four years. During that time, Verdi worked with a couple of different librettists, and the story was moved from 17th-century England to 13th-century Italy.

The process was frustrating for all concerned, but it gave Verdi plenty of chances to show off his music to opera's movers and shakers. One of them was the impresario who arranged for the premiere at La Scala. Another was the publisher Ricordi, who had a fruitful relationship with Verdi for many years to come -- an arrangement that made them both a small fortune. And though it did take two more operas before Verdi's career truly got off the mark, Oberto -- despite a somewhat creaky plotline -- does display many of the musical elements that played an ongoing role in sustaining one of opera's greatest careers.

On WORLD OF OPERA, host Lisa Simeone presents Verdi's Oberto in a production from the Champs-Elysées Theatre in Paris. Bass-baritone Michele Pertusi gives a stirring performance in the title role, with soprano Maria Guleghina as his troubled young daughter, Leonora, in a production led by conductor Carlo Rizzi.