This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.
Find the past “On This Day in History” here.
March 11 is the 70th day of the year (71st in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 295 days remaining until the end of the year.
On this day in 1851, The first performance of Rigoletto by Giuseppe Verdi takes place in Venice.
Rigoletto is an opera in three acts with the Italian libretto written by Francesco Maria Piave based on the play Le roi s’amuse by Victor Hugo. It is considered by many to be the first of the operatic masterpieces of Verdi’s middle-to-late career.
Verdi was commissioned to write a new opera by the La Fenice opera house in Venice in 1850, at a time when he was already a well-known composer with a degree of freedom in choosing the works he would prefer to set to music. He then asked Piave (with whom he had already created Ernani, I due Foscari, Macbeth, Il Corsaro and Stiffelio) to examine the play Kean by Alexandre Dumas, père, but he felt he needed a more energetic subject to work on.
Verdi soon stumbled upon Victor Hugo’s Le roi s’amuse. He later explained that “It contains extremely powerful positions … The subject is great, immense, and has a character that is one of the most important creations of the theatre of all countries and all Ages”. It was a highly controversial subject and Hugo himself had already had trouble with censorship in France, which had banned productions of his play after its first performance nearly twenty years earlier (and would continue to ban it for another thirty years). As Austria at that time directly controlled much of Northern Italy, it came before the Austrian Board of Censors. Hugo’s play depicted a king (Francis I of France) as an immoral and cynical womanizer, something that was not accepted in Europe during the Restoration period.
From the beginning, Verdi was aware of the risks, as was Piave. In a letter which Verdi wrote to Piave: “Use four legs, run through the town and find me an influential person who can obtain the permission for making Le Roi s’amuse.” Correspondence between a prudent Piave and an already committed Verdi followed, and the two remained at risk and underestimated the power and the intentions of Austrians. Even the friendly Guglielmo Brenna, secretary of La Fenice, who had promised them that they would not have problems with the censors, was wrong.
At the beginning of the summer of 1850, rumors started to spread that Austrian censorship was going to forbid the production. They considered the Hugo work to verge on lèse majesté, and would never permit such a scandalous work to be performed in Venice. In August, Verdi and Piave prudently retired to Busseto, Verdi’s hometown, to continue the composition and prepare a defensive scheme. They wrote to the theatre, assuring them that the censor’s doubts about the morality of the work were not justified but since very little time was left, very little could be done. The work was secretly called by the composers The Malediction (or The Curse), and this unofficial title was used by Austrian censor De Gorzkowski (who evidently had known of it from spies) to enforce, if needed, the violent letter by which he definitively denied consent to its production.
In order not to waste all their work, Piave tried to revise the libretto and was even able to pull from it another opera Il Duca di Vendome, in which the sovereign was substituted with a duke and both the hunchback and the curse disappeared. Verdi was completely against this proposed solution and preferred instead to have direct negotiations with censors, arguing over each and every point of the work.
At this point Brenna, La Fenice’s secretary, showed the Austrians some letters and articles depicting the bad character but the great value of the artist, helping to mediate the dispute. In the end the parties were able to agree that the action of the opera had to be moved from the royal court of France to a duchy of France or Italy, as well as a renaming of the characters. In the Italian version the Duke reigns over Mantova and belongs to the Gonzaga family: the Gonzaga had long been extinct by the mid-19th Century, and the Dukedom of Mantova did not exist anymore, so nobody could be offended. The scene in which the sovereign retires in Gilda’s bedroom would be deleted and the visit of the Duke to the Taverna (inn) was not intentional anymore, but provoked by a trick. The hunchback (originally Triboulet) became Rigoletto (from French rigolo = funny). The name of the work too was changed.
For the première, Verdi had Felice Varesi as Rigoletto, the young tenor Raffaele Mirate as the Duke, and Teresina Brambilla as Gilda (though Verdi would have preferred Teresa De Giuli Borsi). Teresina Brambilla was a well-known soprano coming from a family of singers and musicians; one of her nieces, Teresa Brambilla, was the wife of Amilcare Ponchielli.
The opening was a complete triumph, especially the scena drammatica, and the Duke’s cynical aria, “La donna è mobile”, was sung in the streets the next morning.
222 – Emperor Elagabalus is assassinated, along with his mother, Julia Soaemias, by the Praetorian Guard during a revolt. Their mutilated bodies are dragged through the streets of Rome before thrown into the Tiber.
1387 – Battle of Castagnaro: English condottiero Sir John Hawkwood leads Padova to victory in a factional clash with Verona.
1649 – The Frondeurs and the French sign the Peace of Rueil.
1702 – The Daily Courant, England’s first
national daily newspaper is published for the first time.
1708 – Queen Anne withholds Royal Assent from the Scottish Militia Bill, the last time a British monarch vetoes legislation.
1784 – The signing of the Treaty of Mangalore brings the Second Anglo-Mysore War to an end.
1811 – During Andre Massena’s retreat from the Lines of Torres Vedras, a division led by French Marshal Michel Ney fought off a combined Anglo-Portuguese force to give Massena time to escape.
1824 – The United States War Department creates the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
1845 – The Flagstaff War: Unhappy with translational differences regarding the Treaty of Waitangi, chiefs Hone Heke, Kawiti and Maori tribe members chop down the British flagpole for a fourth time and drive settlers out of Kororareka, New Zealand.
1848 – Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine and Robert Baldwin become the first Prime Ministers of the Province of Canada to be democratically elected under a system of responsible government.
1851 – The first performance of Rigoletto by Giuseppe Verdi takes place in Venice.
1861 – American Civil War: The Constitution of the Confederate States of America is adopted.
1864 – The Great Sheffield Flood: The largest man-made disaster ever to befall England kills over 250 people in Sheffield.
1867 – The first performance of Don Carlos by Giuseppe Verdi takes place in Paris.
1872 – Construction of the Seven Sisters Colliery, South Wales, begins; located on one of the richest coal sources in Britain.
1872 – The Meiji Japanese government officially annexes the Ryukyu Kingdom into what would become the Okinawa prefecture.
1888 – The Great Blizzard of 1888 begins along the eastern seaboard of the United States, shutting down commerce and killing more than 400.
1917 – World War I: Baghdad falls to Anglo-Indian forces commanded by General Stanley Maude.
1927 – In New York City, Samuel Roxy Rothafel opens the Roxy Theatre.
1931 – Ready for Labour and Defence of the USSR, abbreviated as GTO, is introduced in the Soviet Union.
1941 – World War II: President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs the Lend-Lease Act into law, allowing American-built war supplies to be shipped to the Allies on loan.
1942 – World War II: General Douglas MacArthur abandons Corregidor.
1945 – World War II: The Imperial Japanese Navy attempts a large-scale kamikaze attack on the U.S. Pacific Fleet anchored at Ulithi atoll in Operation Tan No. 2.
1945 – World War II: The Empire of Vietnam, a short-lived puppet state, is established with Bao Dai as its ruler.
1977 – The 1977 Hanafi Muslim Siege: more than 130 hostages held in Washington, D.C., by Hanafi Muslims are set free after ambassadors from three Islamic nations join negotiations.
1978 – Coastal Road massacre: At least 37 are killed and more than 70 are wounded when Al Fatah hijack an Israeli bus, prompting Israel’s Operation Litani.
1983 – Pakistan successfully conducts a cold test of a nuclear weapon.
1985 – Mikhail Gorbachev becomes the Soviet Union’s leader.
1990 – Lithuania declares itself independent from the Soviet Union.
1990 – Patricio Aylwin is sworn-in as the first democratically elected Chilean president since 1970.
1993 – Janet Reno is confirmed by the United States Senate and sworn-in the next day, becoming the first female Attorney General of the United States.
1999 – Infosys becomes the first Indian company listed on the NASDAQ stock exchange.
2004 – Madrid train bombings: Simultaneous explosions on rush hour trains in Madrid, Spain, kill 191 people.
2006 – Michelle Bachelet is inaugurated as first female president of Chile.
2007 – Russian helicopters reportedly attack the Kodori Valley in Abkhazia, an accusation that Russia categorically denies later.
2009 – Winnenden school shooting – 17 people are killed at a school in Germany.
* Christian Feast Day
* Johnny Appleseed Day (United States)
* Reestablishment of Lithuania’s Independence from the Soviet Union in 1990 (Lithuania)
* Youth Day (Zambia)