Giuseppe Verdi (1813–1901) was one of the greatest operatic composers. His instincts for melody and thrilling drama ensured the enduring popularity of many of his 28 operas. La traviata is currently the most frequently performed opera in the world, Verdi's other masterpieces – Rigoletto, Otello and Don Carlo among them – regularly staged.
Verdi was born to a family of innkeepers and grew up near Busseto in northern Italy. Later in life he made much of his 'peasant' background and lack of formal music education. While in truth his talent was nurtured fairly early on, Verdi still faced terrible difficulties: the triple tragedy of the death of his two children in 1838 and 1839, and his wife Margherita in 1840, followed by the catastrophic failure of his second opera Un giorno di regno, almost led him to renounce composition altogether. The unprecedented success of Nabucco changed everything. Verdi wrote 16 operas in 11 years, and in the last few (from Rigoletto (1851) on) achieved a rich maturity. Following the sensationally popular La traviata Verdi’s pace slowed as he focused on larger works, including Les Vêpres siciliennes and Don Carlos for the Paris Opéra. After Aida (1871), a massive work commissioned to celebrate the opening of the Cairo Opera House, Verdi apparently retired. But nearly ten years later Verdi's publisher Giulio Ricordi enticed him back to composition by proposing a collaboration with the young composer and librettist Arrigo Boito. A revised Simon Boccanegra in 1881 was followed by two last, great operas, based on works by Shakespeare, Verdi’s favourite playwright: Otello (1887) and Falstaff (1893).
Verdi's letters reveal a man of uncompromising integrity. He was intimately involved with every stage of his operas’ creation, often writing nearly as much of the libretto as his chosen librettist. All of his operas exhibit a sophisticated development of Italian opera conventions, used to further his incisive character portraits. From 1847 his life companion was Giuseppina Strepponi, the soprano who created the role Abigaille in Nabucco. They married in 1859.
News and features
27 October 2014
Backstage films from the live relay of I due Foscari, including Antonio Pappano introducing Verdi's music and Plácido Domingo on his transition from tenor to baritone.
12 October 2014
The composer thought his early tragedy too bleak – but look closer and Verdi the dramatist begins to emerge from the shadows in this crucial work.
6 October 2014
Our quick guide to Verdi's early tragedy.
3 October 2014
The city has an important association with the art form that reaches from I due Foscari to Death in Venice.
9 September 2014
Verdi poignantly depicts innocent love in this much-loved aria sung by one of the composer's youngest heroines.
4 September 2014
The composer shook up the operatic establishment with what he saw as his 'best opera', pushing his star singer to the limits.