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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 have ensured the enduring popularity of many of his 28 operas, which include Rigoletto, La traviata, Don Carlo and Otello.

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 the following 11 years, and in the last few (from Rigoletto in 1851 on) achieved a rich maturity. Following the sensationally popular La traviata Verdi’s pace slowed as he focussed 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. 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 his operas exhibit a sophisticated development of Italian opera conventions, used to further his incisive character portraits.

Videos

News and features

Verdi and Boito: the fiery friendship that produced two great final operas

Verdi and Boito: the fiery friendship that produced two great final operas

28 June 2017

After tempestuous beginnings, this partnership brought the master of Italian opera out of retirement to write the magnificent final works Otello and Falstaff.

10 of opera’s greatest tenor roles

10 of opera’s greatest tenor roles

20 June 2017

Our favourites of the undisputed kings of opera, from Idomeneo to Peter Grimes via Siegfried and Otello.

Verdi's <em>Otello</em> musical highlight: Desdemona’s Willow Song and Ave Maria

Verdi's Otello musical highlight: Desdemona’s Willow Song and Ave Maria

13 June 2017

An incredibly powerful argument for how goodness and love can survive in even the most nightmarish circumstances.

Photos

Caricature of Giuseppe Verdi, 1860, by Melchiorre De Filippis Delfico (1825–1895)

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

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

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

Giuseppe Verdi, portrait by Giuseppe Bordini

Giuseppe Verdi, portrait by Giovanni Boldini, 1886

Verdi conducting in Paris, 1880

Bust of Giuseppe Verdi outside the Teatro Massimo in Palermo, Italy. Image by gnuckx

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

Giuseppe Verdi

Bryan Hymel as Henri and Malin Byström as Helene in Les Vêpres Siciliennes, The Royal Opera Season 2017/18

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