Giuseppe Verdi

Verdi

Born: 10 October 1813, Roncole, Italy

Died: 27 January 1901, Milan, Italy


One of the greats, a composer with an innate instinct for theatrical effectiveness and a profound understanding of human nature.

He made his name with his third opera, Nabucco.  Its depiction of a people laboring under foreign oppression appealed to the Italians in their struggle for freedom against the Austrians, and he soon became a symbol of the Risorgimento.  (The cry “Viva Verdi!” also meant “Viva Vittorio Emmanuele, Re D’Italia”.)

A baker’s dozen of operas followed, Verdi turning them out at the rate of a couple a year.  Most lean to blood and thunder, with much waving of swords, bipolar heroes tossing themselves off cliffs, and patriotic sentiment, but they show the composer mastering his craft.

He composed his three most popular operas in the early 1850s: Rigoletto (1851), Il trovatore, and La traviata (both 1853).  These are his most enduring successes today, thanks to their tunefulness and fast-moving plots.

He reduced his rate of composition, producing only eight operas over the next forty years, but these are his mature masterpieces, among them Don Carlos (1867), Aida (1871), and, nearly two decades later, Otello (1887).

“Verdi set the entire world to music.  His operas encompass the theocratic ancient Egypt of Aida and the bigoted Babylon of Nabucco, the imperial Spain of Don Carlos and the licentious Italian Renaissance of Rigoletto, the provincial German courts of Luisa Miller and the contemporary Parisian demimonde of La Traviata.  In him the operatic world theatre…becomes truly global.  The composer of Macbeth, Otello and Falstaff is opera’s Shakespeare: Verdi the populist is an expert in the human heart who commiserates with the slave Aida, the courtesan Violetta and the cheerily dishonourable Falstaff, with the wandering mendicants of La Forza del Destino or the universal chorus whispering its prayer for peace in the Requiem.  Like the chameleon Shakespeare, Verdi hears everyone at once and distributes music impartially to all men alike.  His ensembles compound opposite emotions, as if a god were listening to the polyphonic hubbub of the human race.  In the quartet from Rigoletto, Gilda’s lament and her father’s curses, the Duke’s philandering refrain and Maddalena’s chuckling patter entwine and overlap; musically they are equivalent and while they are singing, Verdi withholds judgement.”
(Peter Conrad, A Song of Love and Death: The Meaning of Opera, 1989)

“In his greatness of vision, Verdi’s affinities are not with Wagner but with Mozart and Shakespeare.  With Mozart he also shares a melodic fecundity, with Shakespeare a renaissance humanistic philosophy, and with both, that unsimulatable compassion for mankind which, though it may be felt by many, only the very greatest artists seem able instinctively and unconsciously to infuse into their creations.  If Verdi’s music contains an implicit message, it is Terence’s Homo sum, humani nil a me alienum puto.”
(Charles Osborne, The Complete Operas of Verdi, 1969.)


Operas:

  1. Oberto, conte di San Bonifacio (1839)
  2. Un giorno di regno (1840)
  3. Nabucco (1842)
  4. I Lombardi alla prima crociata (1843)
  5. Ernani (1844)
  6. I due Foscari (1844)
  7. Giovanna d’Arco (1845)
  8. Alzira (1845)
  9. Attila (1846)
  10. Macbeth (1847, revised 1865)
  11. I masnadieri (1847)
  12. Jérusalem (French revision of I Lombardi; 1847)
  13. Il corsaro (1848)
  14. La battaglia di Legnano (1849)
  15. Luisa Miller (1849)
  16. Stiffelio (1850) / Aroldo (1857)
  17. Rigoletto (1851)
  18. Il trovatore (1853)
  19. La traviata (1853)
  20. Les vêpres siciliennes (1855)
  21. Simon Boccanegra (1857, revised 1881)
  22. Un ballo in maschera (1859)
  23. La forza del destino (1862, revised 1869)
  24. Don Carlos (1867, revised 1872, 1884 and 1886)
  25. Aida (1871)
  26. Otello (1887)
  27. Falstaff (1893)