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Classical Notes

A Verdi-related video suggestion

Posted at 11:30 AM on October 11, 2013 by Luke Taylor
Filed under: Composers, Fun finds, In the media

Maggie Smith in 'Quartet'
Maggie Smith stars in 'Quartet' (BBC Films/The Weinstein Company)

As we wrap up the week of Giuseppe Verdi's bicentenary, here is a home-video pick to help you carry the celebration into the weekend.

Giuseppe Verdi was obviously a celebrated and successful opera composer, and he was able to share his success through philanthropy. Notably, Verdi founded a home in Milan, Italy, for retired opera singers and musicians. Originally called by the functional title Casa di Riposo per Musicisti, it is also known as Casa Verdi, and it continues to operate today.

The existence of Casa Verdi inspired writer Ronald Harwood to craft a stage- and later a screenplay that would become the film Quartet, released in 2012 and directed by Dustin Hoffman.

Quartet is set in a fictitious retirement home for musicians in Britain (based on Casa Verdi), and it stars Billy Connolly, Maggie Smith, Tom Courteney and Pauline Collins. The plot hinges on a recital put on by the residents of the home; the recital is a gala fundraiser that ensures the retirement home will continue operating.

Giving a nod to his inspiration for the script, Harwood sets the rectial on Verdi's birthday. The hope among the home's residents and its prospective gala attendees is that the eponymous quartet — who wowed audiences in an earlier era — will perform selections from Verdi's Rigoletto.

Besides a thoughtful and witty script brought wonderfully to life through the cast's committed performances, Quartet is notable for its use of actual musicians.

Director Dustin Hoffman, in an interview with BBC Radio Five Live's Simon Mayo, said that for the film to be fully realized, he had to hire real retired opera singers and musicians. "In the film, they are all doing their own singing, their own instrumental playing," Hoffman said. "There's no fakery."

Quartet is also one of those rare films, like Waking Ned or The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, that sees older protagonists chasing their dreams. It's a point that wasn't lost on Hoffman as he was casting the retired singers and musicians.

"These gifted people that are on the screen, whether they are musicians or singers, no one had rung their phones for 30, 40 years, and yet talent remains in them," Hoffman said to the BBC's Simon Mayo. "For whatever mysterious reason there is, whether in America or England or anywhere, people become recyclable after they reach a certain age, and no one calls them, even if they can still deliver in the way they've been doing it all their lives. And I think the film wants to [call attention to] the fact that we are somehow dismissing a vital part of our culture."

Be sure to watch through the film's closing credits, which include highlights of the cast's careers in music.

Quartet is available through mail-order DVD services, on-demand streaming services as well as in certain video vending machines. That said, I watched Quartet for free, thanks to DVD checkout from Minneapolis Public Library.

View the official trailer for Quartet: