Verdi, Giuseppe

(1813–1901)
   Born near Parma, Verdi’s early musical and private life was characterized by setbacks. His attempt to enter the conservatory at Milan in 1832 was rebuffed on the grounds of his excessive age and insufficient piano technique. Between 1838 and 1840, he had to endure the tragedy of losing his wife and children to illness. Only in 1842, when he composed Nabucco, did his luck begin to turn. In the next 15 years he wrote nearly 20 operas, including Rigoletto (1851) and La Traviata (1853). By now internationally famous, he began writing and presenting operas all over the world: Aida (1871), perhaps his most famous work, was first produced in Cairo with the pyramids as a backdrop. Verdi was a patriot and a supporter of the unification of Italy and was elected to the first Italian Parliament in 1861. During the 1850s, audiences who wanted to show their support for Italian nationalism would hang banners in the theater reading “Viva V.E.R.D.I.” As well as showing their affection for a great composer, the letters stood for “Vittorio Emanuele Re d’Italia.”
   After Aida, Verdi’s production became less intense. In 1874, he composed the requiem mass for the novelist Alessandro Manzoni. His last two great works were both based on Shakespeare’s plays: Otello (1877) and Falstaff (1893). Musically less challenging than his great German contemporary, Wagner, Verdi’s operas have nevertheless lost none of their appeal for audiences all over the world. In Italy, he remains a popular composer in the widest sense of the word, and new productions of Rigoletto or La Traviata are whistled off the stage if they do not meet the public’s demanding standards for singing and orchestration.

Historical Dictionary of Modern Italy. . 2007.

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