Giuseppe Verdi, full name Giuseppe Fortunino Francesco Verdi, (October 1813 – January 27, 1901 in Milan, Italy), was a major Italian opera composer of the 19th century, known for works such as Rigoletto ( 1851), Il trovatore (1853), La traviata (1853), Don Carlos (1867), Aida (1871), Otello (1887) and Falstaff (1893) and for the Missa de Requiem (1874).
He started by composing music for the town church. Rejected by the Milan Conservatory – he was over the age of admission and played the piano poorly – Verdi ended up studying privately.
The music he wrote in the early years of his career must have impressed the right people because, after some difficulty, he managed to get an opera, Oberto, conte di San Bonifacio, produced at La Scala in March 1839.
However banal the play may seem today, it facilitated three more operas at the most important theater in Italy. His rising career was derailed by tragedy: in 1840, his young wife, Margherita Barezzi, died. Later, in 1859, he remarries Giuseppina Strepponi.
In addition to this personal suffering, Verdi saw his next opera, Un giorno di regno (King for a Day), a comedy, blown off the stage. This combined trauma led to severe depression and either caused or fixed the dark, fatalistic, sometimes harsh aspects of Verdi’s character.
The Suffering of Giuseppe Verdi
Verdi’s next two operas were, astonishingly, equally wildly successful: I Lombardi alla prima crociata (1843; The Lombards on the First Crusade) and Ernani (1844). The latter has gained a stable place in the opera repertoire around the world. His other works had different receptions. A list drawn up in 1844 of possible subjects for librettos shows Verdi’s high concern for literary and dramatic values
In time, he became an international celebrity, and his changing status was reflected in his art. From 1855 to 1870 he devoted himself to providing works for the Paris Opera and other theatres, conforming to the Parisian opera standard, which demanded spectacular dramas on themes of great gravity in five acts with ballet.
After 1873, the master considered himself finally withdrawn from the world of opera, with which he had been linked for so many years in a love-hate relationship. He settled in Sant’Agata, where the same iron fist and obsessive attention to detail he had applied to opera rehearsals came to control all aspects of his agricultural enterprise.
A 20-year program of expanding and improving his estates made him a large landowner and a very wealthy man. He funded important charities, the most famous of which is a home for elderly musicians, which still operates in Milan, he writes Britannica.
Why was his work special?
His unintended and unimagined return to the stage, many years away, was entirely due to the initiative of his editor, Giulio Ricordi.
In his 74th year, Verdi, stimulated by a libretto far superior to anything he had devised up to that point, produced his tragic masterpiece. In Otello the drama is absorbed in a continuous and flexible musical score, much more advanced in style than that of Aida, reflecting every aspect of the characters and every nuance of the action.
Towards the end of his life, Verdi gradually weakened and died in 1901, 4 years after his wife’s death.
Verdi altered the rigid conventions of bel canto opera, which valued singers over dramatic values. Verdi’s genius was to dismantle the system while giving the singers (and their audience) melody and brilliance in ample measure.
The composer who dismantled the system
All this was in the service of drama, as Verdi always emphasized, and drama, as he saw it, emerged from the interaction of people in remarkable, usually dire situations – people who were characterized by Verdi’s music.
No opera composer has ever assembled a more varied and vivid gallery of portraits.
Verdi’s music has been used in hundreds of film scores. His operas were staples of the opera repertoire. His songs “La donna è mobile” from the opera Rigoletto (1851) and “Libiamo ne’lieti calici” (Drinking song) from La Traviata (1853) were popular concert numbers performed by three tenors: Luciano Pavarotti, Plácido Domingo and José Carreras.