That Useless Company


Sometimes even the greatest composers have to distinguish between just and unjust criticisms of their work. After a bad performance of his opera Un Ballo in Maschera, Giuseppe Verdi wrote to the producer on June 5, 1859:

You were wrong to defend Un Ballo in Maschera against the attacks in the newspapers. You should do what I always do-don’t read them, or let them sing whatever tune they want. Fact-an opera is either bad or good. If it’s bad, the journalists are right to pan it. If it’s good and they refuse to acknowledge it because of some prejudice, it’s best to let them ramble on unheeded.

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Anyway, you’ve got to confess that if anyone needed defending during the Carnival season it was that useless company you stuck me with. Put your hand on your heart and admit that I was a paragon of restraint in not picking up the score and going away to look for dogs less prone to howling than the ones you foisted on me.

Forgive me, but I can’t write the publisher and ask him to lower his rates because I’m not in the habit of doing that kind of thing. Anyway, the price you’re offering for Aroldo, Boccanegra, and Un Ballo in Maschera seems to me -as little as the operas may be worth- to be too low. You need three operas? Well, here you go –Nina by Paisiello, Armide by Gluck, and Alceste by Lully. In addition to the savings, you can be sure that with those operas you won’t have to duke it out with the journalists or anyone else. The music is gorgeous and the composers are dead. Everyone has been saying nice things about them for a century-to centuries. And they’ll keep on doing so if only for the sake of slandering those who have not yet been foolish enough to die.