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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

Context is king: Verdi's self-criticism of I due Foscari overlooks extraordinary emotional insight

Context is king: Verdi's self-criticism of I due Foscari overlooks extraordinary emotional insight

12 October 2014

The composer thought his early tragedy too bleak – but look closer and Verdi the dramatist begins to emerge from the shadows in this crucial work.

5 things you need to know about I due Foscari

5 things you need to know about I due Foscari

6 October 2014

Our quick guide to Verdi's early tragedy.

Venice has provided setting and inspiration for countless operas


Venice has provided setting and inspiration for countless operas


3 October 2014

The city has an important association with the art form that reaches from I due Foscari to Death in Venice.

Rigoletto Musical Highlight: ‘Caro nome’

Rigoletto Musical Highlight: ‘Caro nome’

9 September 2014

Verdi poignantly depicts innocent love in this much-loved aria sung by one of the composer's youngest heroines.

Rigoletto: How Verdi revolutionized opera

Rigoletto: How Verdi revolutionized opera

4 September 2014

The composer shook up the operatic establishment with what he saw as his 'best opera', pushing his star singer to the limits.

5 things you need to know about Rigoletto

5 things you need to know about Rigoletto

29 August 2014

Our quick guide to Verdi's acclaimed tragedy.

Photos

Simon Keenlyside as Rigoletto and Aleksandra Kurzak as Gilda in Rigoletto © ROH / Catherine Ashmore 2014

Justina Gringyte as Maddalena and Saimir Pirgu as the Duke of Mantua in Rigoletto © ROH / Catherine Ashmore 2014

Brindley Sherratt as Sparafucile in Rigoletto © ROH / Catherine Ashmore 2014

Aleksandra Kurzak as Gilda and Simon Keenlyside as Rigoletto in Rigoletto © ROH / Catherine Ashmore 2014

Aleksandra Kurzak as Gilda and Simon Keenlyside as Rigoletto in Rigoletto © ROH / Catherine Ashmore 2014

Duncan Rock as Marullo and Simon Keenlyside as Rigoletto with members of the Royal Opera Chorus in Rigoletto © ROH / Catherine Ashmore 2014

Simon Keenlyside as Rigoletto in Rigoletto © ROH / Catherine Ashmore 2014

Saimir Pirgu as the Duke of Mantua in Rigoletto © ROH / Catherine Ashmore 2014

Simon Keenlyside as Rigoletto in Rigoletto © ROH / Catherine Ashmore 2014

Aleksandra Kurzak as Gilda and Saimir Pirgu as the Duke of Mantua in Rigoletto © ROH / Catherine Ashmore 2014

Saimir Pirgu as the Duke of Mantua in Rigoletto © ROH / Catherine Ashmore 2014

Aleksandra Kurzak as Gilda and Saimir Pirgu as Duke of Mantua in Rigoletto © ROH / Catherine Ashmore 2014

Simon Keenlyside as Rigoletto and Aleksandra Kurzak as Gilda in Rigoletto © ROH / Catherine Ashmore 2014

Elizabeth Sikora as Giovanna and Saimir Pirgu as the Duke of Mantua in Rigoletto © ROH / Catherine Ashmore 2014

Aleksandra Kurzak as Gilda and Simon Keenlyside as Rigoletto in Rigoletto © ROH / Catherine Ashmore 2014

Aleksandra Kurzak as Gilda and Simon Keenlyside as Rigoletto in Rigoletto © ROH / Catherine Ashmore 2014

Aleksandra Kurzak as Gilda in Rigoletto © ROH / Catherine Ashmore 2014

Simon Keenlyside as Rigoletto and Aleksandra Kurzak as Gilda in Rigoletto © ROH / Catherine Ashmore 2014

Aleksandra Kurzak as Gilda in Rigoletto © ROH / Catherine Ashmore 2014

Simon Keenlyside as Rigoletto in Rigoletto © ROH / Catherine Ashmore 2014

Simon Keenlyside as Rigoletto in Rigoletto © ROH / Catherine Ashmore 2014

Simon Keenlyside as Rigoletto in Rigoletto © ROH / Catherine Ashmore 2014

The Royal Opera's Rigoletto © ROH / Catherine Ashmore 2014

Giuseppe Verdi

Giuseppe Verdi, portrait by Giovanni Boldini, 1886

Giuseppe Verdi

The Royal Opera in Don Carlo © ROH / Catherine Ashmore 2013

The Royal Opera in Don Carlo © ROH / Catherine Ashmore 2013

The Royal Opera in Don Carlo © ROH / Catherine Ashmore 2013

Ferruccio Furlanetto as Philip II and Mariusz Kwiecien as Rodrigo © ROH / Catherine Ashmore 2013

Anja Harteros as Elizabeth and Jonas Kaufmann as Don Carlo in Don Carlo © ROH / Catherine Ashmore 2013

Mariusz Kwiecien as Rodrigo and Anja Harteros as Elizabeth in Don Carlo © ROH / Catherine Ashmore 2013

Ferruccio Furlanetto as Philip II and Anja Harteros as Elizabeth in Don Carlo © ROH / Catherine Ashmore 2013

Eric Halfvarson as the Grand Inquisitor in Don Carlo © ROH / Catherine Ashmore 2013

Pablo Bemsch as the Count of Lerma in Don Carlo © ROH / Catherine Ashmore 2013

Jonas Kaufmann as Don Carlo in Don Carlo © ROH / Catherine Ashmore 2013