Accessibility links

|

Sign In
Basket
Basket

Giuseppe Verdi

Biography

Giuseppe Verdi (1813–1901) is 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, and Verdi's other masterpieces – Rigoletto, Otello and Don Carlo among them – are regularly staged.

Verdi was born to a family of innkeepers and grew up near the market town of 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 in 1842, with its instantly recognizable 'Va, pensiero' chorus, 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 seemed to retire. 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

Not-so-easy listening made easier: How to listen to the unfamiliar as well as the familiar

Not-so-easy listening made easier: How to listen to the unfamiliar as well as the familiar

22 July 2014

Schonberg's Moses und Aron may seem daunting, but dip a toe in the water and you might be pleasantly surprised.

Five operas adapted from plays: From stage to stave (and back again)

Five operas adapted from plays: From stage to stave (and back again)

7 July 2014

Composers have long been inspired by the work of playwrights.

10 Operatic Prayers: Divine music in hope of divine intervention

10 Operatic Prayers: Divine music in hope of divine intervention

24 April 2014

Operatic characters often look to the heavens, in thanks or in anguished supplication.

La traviata Musical Highlight: 'Parigi, o cara'

La traviata Musical Highlight: 'Parigi, o cara'

17 April 2014

We look at the moving final duet between Verdi's heroine Violetta and her love Alfredo.

Opera Essentials: La traviata

Opera Essentials: La traviata

14 April 2014

A quick guide to Verdi's heartbreaking tragedy.

Workshops, interactive exhibitions and concerts in Thurrock inspired by Verdi's Requiem

Workshops, interactive exhibitions and concerts in Thurrock inspired by Verdi's Requiem

2 April 2014

Events include performances, activities and insight events, including a production of Verdi’s Requiem and a world premiere of work by RM19.

Photos