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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

Stormy Weather #2: Smart techniques for bringing a storm to the stage from history's great composers

Stormy Weather #2: Smart techniques for bringing a storm to the stage from history's great composers

23 January 2015

Beethoven inspired a host of operatic composers including Rossini, Verdi and Weill in musical methods for creating an operatic storm.

Opera in the Real World: The historical figures behind some of opera's greatest characters

Opera in the Real World: The historical figures behind some of opera's greatest characters

5 January 2015

Composers have often looked to the real world for operatic inspiration – though their real-life subjects often undergo some operatization on their way to the stage.

Un ballo in maschera musical highlight: The Act II Grand Duet

Un ballo in maschera musical highlight: The Act II Grand Duet

18 December 2014

Verdi uses traditional Italian form to create a duet of drama and soaring romance that celebrates the power of the human voice.

Opera Essentials: Un ballo in maschera

Opera Essentials: Un ballo in maschera

15 December 2014

Our quick guide to Verdi's thrilling tragedy of love, politics and betrayal.

Un ballo in maschera musical highlight: The Laughing Chorus in Act II

Un ballo in maschera musical highlight: The Laughing Chorus in Act II

9 December 2014

Verdi’s music for the chorus ‘Ve’, se di notte’ shows how laughter can be used to heighten tragedy.

Our favourite doomed operatic parties

Our favourite doomed operatic parties

5 December 2014

Curses, seduction and murder – why are operatic parties always doomed to end in tears?

Photos