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Giuseppe Verdi

Composer

Biography

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.

Videos

News and features

<em>Falstaff</em> musical highlight: ‘Sirena… quand’ero paggio del Duca di Norfolk’

Falstaff musical highlight: ‘Sirena… quand’ero paggio del Duca di Norfolk’

29 June 2015

It may clock in at just forty seconds in length, but Falstaff’s gem of a mini-aria is a perfect expression of joyous nostalgia.

Verdi unpacked: A guide to the master of Italian opera

Verdi unpacked: A guide to the master of Italian opera

21 May 2015

The composer of La traviata, Macbeth and Otello consolidated and innovated the opera of his time.

Opera in the City of Love: Paris as muse

Opera in the City of Love: Paris as muse

13 May 2015

Composers have been inspired by everything about the French capital – from its seediness to its troubled political history – but most of all by its air of romance.

Photos

Simon Keenlyside as Rigoletto in Rigoletto

Aleksandra Kurzak as Gilda and Simon Keenlyside as Rigoletto in Rigoletto

Aleksandra Kurzak as Gilda and Simon Keenlyside as Rigoletto in Rigoletto

Simon Keenlyside as Rigoletto and Aleksandra Kurzak as Gilda in Rigoletto

Elizabeth Sikora as Giovanna and Saimir Pirgu as the Duke of Mantua in Rigoletto

Aleksandra Kurzak as Gilda and Simon Keenlyside as Rigoletto in Rigoletto

Aleksandra Kurzak as Gilda and Simon Keenlyside as Rigoletto in Rigoletto

Ferruccio Furlanetto as Philip II and Anja Harteros as Elizabeth in Don Carlo

Ferruccio Furlanetto as Philip II and Mariusz Kwiecien as Rodrigo

Giuseppe Verdi

The Royal Opera's Rigoletto

Simon Keenlyside as Rigoletto and Aleksandra Kurzak as Gilda in Rigoletto

Duncan Rock as Marullo and Simon Keenlyside as Rigoletto with members of the Royal Opera Chorus in Rigoletto

Aleksandra Kurzak as Gilda and Saimir Pirgu as the Duke of Mantua in Rigoletto

Saimir Pirgu as the Duke of Mantua in Rigoletto

Aleksandra Kurzak as Gilda and Saimir Pirgu as Duke of Mantua in Rigoletto

Simon Keenlyside as Rigoletto in Rigoletto

Simon Keenlyside as Rigoletto in Rigoletto

Aleksandra Kurzak as Gilda in Rigoletto

Simon Keenlyside as Rigoletto in Rigoletto

Simon Keenlyside as Rigoletto in Rigoletto

Brindley Sherratt as Sparafucile in Rigoletto

Saimir Pirgu as the Duke of Mantua in Rigoletto

Giuseppe Verdi, portrait by Giovanni Boldini, 1886

Giuseppe Verdi

The Royal Opera in Don Carlo

Eric Halfvarson as the Grand Inquisitor in Don Carlo

Jonas Kaufmann as Don Carlo in Don Carlo

The Royal Opera in Don Carlo

Simon Keenlyside as Rigoletto and Aleksandra Kurzak as Gilda in Rigoletto

Justina Gringyte as Maddalena and Saimir Pirgu as the Duke of Mantua in Rigoletto

Aleksandra Kurzak as Gilda in Rigoletto

The Royal Opera in Don Carlo

Pablo Bemsch as the Count of Lerma in Don Carlo

Anja Harteros as Elizabeth and Jonas Kaufmann as Don Carlo in Don Carlo

Mariusz Kwiecien as Rodrigo and Anja Harteros as Elizabeth in Don Carlo