Laudi alla vergine Maria
Verdi wrote Laudi alla Vergine around 1868 while he was simultaneously composing Otello, his penultimate opera. The text of this piece is taken from Dante’s literary masterpiece, Divine Comedy, an allegory that describes Dante’s journey through Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven. It is the third in a set of four sacred pieces (Quattro pezzi sacri) which are often performed together.
Articulations and Dynamics
Laudi, like most of Verdi’s music, is filled with detailed articulations to guide us in our interpretation. Every articulation should be observed, and be obviously different than notes without an articulation.
The staccato marked in the 3rd measure also has a legato marking above, which indicates that it should be approached like a staccato but still maintain an overall connection in the phrase. The vertical accent in mm. 20 is the marking for marcato, or “well-marked.” Notes with a marcato articulation should have more length and taper on each note, but have separation as well.
Verdi gives as detailed care to his dynamics and he does with articulation. With Mozart we rarely see a dynamic of pianississimo (ppp). If a dynamic is marked softer than piano, I encourage you to think of a different color rather than singing too soft like a whisper. Verdi wrote Laudi for only 4 female voices, which makes me believe that this should be sung with one’s full soloistic voice. Verdi placed all of these same dynamic markings (even ppp) in his opera scores… and you can be sure he never wanted his operatic singers to sing too softly, so be sure to use your best technique to project and never come off the voice.
Emphasizing the stressed and unstressed syllables is an important element to mastering the Italian language and creating legato which is central to it. The stressed syllables in Italian are almost always on the penultimate syllable, unless marked by an accent on the last syllable. The stressed syllable should be louder, while the unstressed is softer. Below are examples of where the stressed syllables are located:
To work on word stress at home, start by speaking the text of a section out of rhythm slowly to find the natural speech rhythms. Then, chant in rhythm once or twice. Finally, incorporate word stress with by singing on pitches. Remember, also, that stressed syllables in Italian are indicated by lengthening a vowel instead of punching a consonant, and should always be graceful, like a crescendo, not an accent.
A major concept that diminishes your full sound is singing vowels TOO round, especially on ‘ah’ vowels. The ‘ah’ vowel in Italian is bright and forward, which projects better in any language. ‘Eh’ vowels are pitfalls in any language as they can become a wide vowel or diphthong. My advice is to record and listen yourself to know for sure if your vowels are accurate and resonant.
There are several spots where the language has two vowels on one note connected with what looks like tiny slur. I suggest splitting these 50%on the first vowel and 50% on the second with a very smooth approach. Even without the slur, if a word has two different vowels on a single note, I suggest splitting the vowels 50/50. Here are some examples of this:
Liberamente al (mm. 67)
Creatura é (mm. 80)
Di farsi sua fatura (mm. 23-26)
One Exception: Umile ed alta (mm. 5) is not pronounced twice, but with a single “Eh” vowel because it is the same vowel sound.
Good luck on Saturday!