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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

Watch: ‘Verdi felt the people of his own nation needed a voice’ – Why <em>Nabucco</em> remains politically potent

Watch: ‘Verdi felt the people of his own nation needed a voice’ – Why Nabucco remains politically potent

22 June 2016

Stars of Daniele Abbado’s production discuss why Verdi's Biblical epic was politically potent in his own time, and why it remains relevant today.

Crossed wires and ‘too many deaths’: The troubled genesis of Verdi’s <em>Il trovatore</em>

Crossed wires and ‘too many deaths’: The troubled genesis of Verdi’s Il trovatore

21 June 2016

How Verdi's operatic smash hit came to being — in spite of a tangled web of correspondence between composer and librettist.

<em>Il trovatore</em> musical highlight: ‘Tace la notte’

Il trovatore musical highlight: ‘Tace la notte’

20 June 2016

Verdi was more than simply the composer of big tunes — he was also an expert at creating nuanced characters and psychological drama.

Photos

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

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

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

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

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 Giovanni Boldini, 1886

Giuseppe Verdi, portrait by Giuseppe Bordini

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