“The other night I saw the first ballet at the Opéra... It was the most indecent thing you could ever see”, wrote Giuseppe Verdi from Paris to the countess Morosini in 1847.
Verdi was not a great lover of classical ballet, but he was one of the few among the great composers of the 19th century who, when he wrote for the Opéra, answered with sincere artistic commitment to the obligation imposed by the management of the Parisian theater to include a danced divertissement, a ballet during the third act of every opera.
In spite of Italian habit, according to which ballet was considered a foreign body in the opera, in France it constituted an integral part and Verdi resigned himself to write ballet music, adding it, with notable results, to the living body of his melodrama for the debut of his creations at the Opéra de Paris. Moreover he also composed pieces for the French versions of Trovatore, Macbeth, Otello besides the French premières of I Vespri siciliani, Don Carlos, Aida.
In Verdi operas with ballet
the destiny of the characters is linked to the rhythm of the dance, such as in the first scene of Rigoletto, the parties in La Traviata
or the brilliant dances of Il Ballo in maschera
, all examples where Verdi used ballet music as a powerful theatrical prop.
For his Parisian style grand-opéra works, such as I Vespri siciliani and Don Carlos, Verdi collaborated with renowned choreographers such as Lucien Petipa.
One of the first complete, authoritative study dedicated to the music Verdi composed for the dances of his operas was published in 1995 by the Istituto di Studi Verdiani. It is The Verdi Ballets by Knud Arne Jürgensen, in the Italian edition by Pierluigi Petrobelli and Fabrizio Della Seta. It is an in-depth historic study of each dance, followed by a choreographic analysis of the music accompanied by pertinent musical examples and an interesting iconographic selection.