“Di destarlo per tempo il re m’impose”
Let us have a brief look at Banco’s various anti-philosophical statements, via the composer’s translation of Shakespeare’s verse.
His mood is troubled and somber: the main topical subjects are death and loss.
Verdi depicts the protagonist as a tired, heavily-laden man, weighed down by emotional burdens. His musical role is structured so to reflect his existential despair and distress: plain statements of doom, tragic assessments of a fatalistic reality..
He has lost such reflexes as natural responses to his very own environment, creative resilience, as well as any will to communicate with his fellow human beings.
Although there is a lot of wisdom in each of his inputs; by the end of each statement, he loses all breath and pattern of articulation.
The man Banco is stripped bare, forced to carry this emotional burden, and apparently on his own: the orchestra meanwhile just witnesses and echoes his laments. Apart from a few rising points where the latter punctuates the singer’s walk, musical instruments are basically a mirror to his dark gloomy grey self.
The shadowy walk defies the expectations traditionally associated with this bass vocal part.
The great empathy in the vocal character has turned into loneliness: the listener constantly expects him to rise (in pitch, at least), or to change his pace.
The pattern however remains monotonous, with accented consonants: there is no visible horizon or light at the end of this musical tunnel whatsoever.
Following a few strenuous, dragging first bars, the character dramatically accents every syllable on “lamentose (voci)”: the image created here being of a person desperately trying to catch their breath, and more openly expressing their exhaustion. It is of a man, for a few seconds, letting go of social obligations, allowing himself to be somewhat “weaker” than expected. In this assumed weakness, he is yet also showing greater empathy, a carrier or vector of universal emotional responses to death in the family.
He goes on from thence, carrying his heavy carcass: forgetting how to ask for help, forgetting his own identity or creativity, losing his resilience and will to survive.
Innate survival instincts for human beings and animals to automatically generate movement and existential opportunities, here seem somewhat lost…
This, as above, is how Verdi is choosing to depict the main themes in this paragraph’s libretto: by showing us a strong male figure carrying the pain of loss, to the point of losing his own vital strength.
Another touch of Verdi’s genius is the use of musical composition as a typography structure for the original text.
To give a concrete example: after “O, qual orrenda notte!”, the emotional weight of this first sentence hangs in the air. The listener awaits more: a denouement, some explanation, a solution or a development of some kind…
The next note, although higher, introduces yet a disappointing repetition of the previous situation. Together with the shaping of the following verses (twisted, disappointing versions of the same statements), the overall effect works as a poignant choreography for Shakespeare’s words.
In a poem by Aimé Césaire, for instance, this would translate on the page as specific placements for words and paragraphs. They would be judicially shifted around, according to their degree of importance.
This is a way to personify literary items, by actually drawing them onto paper.
A very good composition can have the same effect. Rests, contrasting pitches, musical paragraphs, can add to a listener’s mind the same sense of wonder and suspense as a reader’s mind, when anticipating the next line on a page.
Masculinity is given the hero treatment, in this small paragraph: warts and all, female sensitivity and all. Far from being written by Shakespeare, it is actually penned by Verdi.
Masculinity here is painted with a multi-dimensional musical ink, as a non-conventional concept. This understanding goes way beyond social or political expectations, beyond borders and linguistic traditions.