Born in Roncole, Italy, October 9th or 10th, 1813
Died in Milan, January 27th, 1901
Aida, La Traviata, Falstaff
Giuseppe Verdi (Joe Green, in English) was born into a family of small landowners and taverners. When he was seven he was helping the local church organist; at 12 he was studying with the organist at the main church in a nearby town and in 1829 became assistant. He already had several compositions to his credit. In 1832 he was sent to Milan and was refused a place at the conservatory, but he studied with a composer and former musician. He might also have taken a post as organist in 1835. He became town music master in 1836 and married Margherita Barezzi, his patron’s daughter. Their two children died in infancy.
Verdi composed an opera and tried to arrange for a performance. He was unsuccessful but had some songs published and decided to settle in Milan in 1839. His first opera was well received but his next completely failed. His wife died during its composition. Verdi nearly gave up, but was encouraged by a story and in 1842 saw its successful production, which carried his reputation across Italy, Europe, and the New World over the next five years. It was followed by another opera also with marked political messages and again well received. Verdi’s gift for stirring melody and tragic and heroic situations was liked in Italy. The country was struggling for freedom and unity, causes with which he was sympathetic; but much opera of this period has political themes.
During the next several years, Verdi began composing a long and demanding series of operas in Paris, France, and London, as well as in Rome, Milan, Naples, Venice, Florence and Trieste in Italy. (He paused from his work in 1846 when his health gave way.) His works were known for their strong, sad stories, vigorous orchestral styles, forceful writing for voices and serious drama. His models included other Italian composers. He was careful with his choice of topics and about the detailed planning of his stories. His use of male voices was predictable, but his female voices had more variation.
Many of his operas were censored. He would rewrite them and then they became huge successes. In 1853 he wrote one of his most loved operas, La Traviata. It was a failure in Venice at first. With revisions, it was favorably received the following year at a different Venetian theater.
Later in 1853 he went with his fiancÃ©e, who was a soprano, to Paris, France to prepare another opera, where it was given in 1855 with some success. He remained there for a time to defend against the pirates of the theater (those who stole compositions from successful composers) and to deal with translations of his operas. The next new opera was very somber. It was a drama about love and politics in medieval Genoa, given in Venice, Italy. Plans for another opera in Naples, about the assassinaton of a Swedish king, were called off because of the censors and it was given instead in Rome in 1859. Verdi was involved in political activity at this time, as representative in the parliament of the town where he lived; later, he was elected to the national parliament, and ultimately he became a senator.
Verdi returned to Italy, to live in Genoa and began work on Aida in 1870. It was given at the opera house in Cairo, Egypt at the end of 1871 to mark the opening of the Suez Canal. Verdi was not present. Aida was written in the grand opera tradition but later he wrote another opera, Othello, a most powerful, tragic work, a study in evil and jealousy, which had its opening in Milan in 1887. He wrote his first comic opera, Falstaff, two years later.
Verdi spent his last years in Milan; rich, authoritarian but charitable, much visited, revered, and honored. He died at the beginning of 1901. 28,000 people lined the streets for his funeral.