Review of Verdi

Verdi (1982– )
Brilliant evocation of the life of the great composer
2 June 2016
THE LIFE OF VERDI is a stunning, beautiful and virtually exhaustive (at about 10 hours) chronicle of the life of Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi. Formerly available on the controversial Kultur label, this new DVD release by Acorn Media is a dream come true for people who appreciate composer biographies, historical epics and, especially, this particular film, which was the last film by Italian director/writer Renato Castellani. The transfer is excellent, whereas the previously available print was mediocre at best. This new release looks crisp and does justice to the film's visual artistry--it looks very much like a series of paintings.

Verdi lived a long, rich life and his output was truly amazing, mostly operas--and most of his operas were masterpieces. There are generous allotments of Verdi's glorious music throughout this film and the period detail is lushly evocative of Verdi's life and times. Ronald Pickup is perfect as Verdi. He is probably the only "name" and face that will be familiar to at least some outside of Europe. Pickup has been in countless films and television programs, including several other composer biographies, though here, finally, he plays the title role. Speaking of names, when THE LIFE OF VERDI was shown on PBS way back in the early eighties, Burt Lancaster was the on camera narrator. I recall this very clearly because I remember being enthralled by the series even back then. In this version--perhaps for the better--Lancaster is not seen on camera (his star power was a bit distracting, if I recall). He does, however, continue to narrate in voice-over. Lancaster was a big fan of opera and his enthusiasm bubbles through in his voice, despite some mispronunciations that some will find distracting.

That's a minor observance compared to the beauty and lovingly re-created world that director/writer Castellani presents. Castellani will not be entirely unfamiliar to North American audiences, though your tastes might have to be a bit specialized to recognize his name and style of film making. One of his first films, from 1954, was a version of Romeo & Juliet starring Laurence Harvey and is a gorgeous evocation of Shakespeare's play, if a bit slowly paced. It even has John Gielgud as the Chorus! It took another Italian, Franco Zeffirelli, to bring Italy and Shakespeare to life for a contemporary audience back in 1968.

A few years before making THE LIFE OF VERDI, Castellani turned his attention to another great Italian, Leonardo Da Vinci, in a five part television film that I recall with great fondness, for it really brought Leonardo to life and gave me a deeper appreciation of his incredible achievements.

But back to THE LIFE OF VERDI. Thank you to the distributors of this magnificent film! The time you invest in watching it will pay dividends, for like any great work of art, it will stay with you long afterwards.
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