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Giuseppe Verdi(1813— 1901)

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Giuseppe Verdi was the master of Italian opera. He integrated political interests, lyric melodies, and dramatic intensity into his music and operatic themes. Verdi, the son of a peasant innkeeper, was born on October 10, 1813. As a child he illustrated a tremendous love for music, however, he was not considered particularly talented. A local organist gave Verdi his initial lessons in music, after which Verdi’s father sent him to Busseto to further his musical abilities. Twelve-year-old Verdi lived with a friend of his family, and soon became acquainted with Antonio Barezzi, the president of the Busseto Philharmonic Society. Barezzi encouraged Verdi’s talent, offering the young boy a job, and enabling him to take music lessons from Ferdinando Provesi, the director of a local Philharmonic Society. Verdi began to compose pieces, and progressed in his musical studies. At the age of fifteen he wrote an orchestral overture that was performed in a local theater. The people of Busseto were so entranced by Verdi’s music that they pooled together enough money to send him to Milan to study at the Conservatory.

Unfortunately, the Milan Conservatory rejected Verdi, finding that he lacked musical talent. Nonetheless, Verdi continued studying music by taking private lessons from Vincenzo Lavigna, a composer and musician. Verdi made his debut when he was called on to replace an absent director at a performance of Haydn’s The Creation. The audience was so impressed by his abilities that Verdi was given a permanent position as the music director.

After the death of his beloved private instructor, Verdi decided to pursue a career as a composer, and to seek out his childhood sweetheart, Margherita Barezzi. He soon succeeded in presenting his first opera, Oberto, at La Scala, and won Margherita’s hand in marriage. Verdi and Margherita had two beloved children who both died while they were infants. During the writing of his first operatic comedy, Verdi met with disaster. His son died, and a few months later his wife passed away. The presentation of his new opera was a catastrophe, and Verdi almost chose to abandon composition altogether.

However, the director of La Scala supported and encouraged Verdi, enabling the budding composer to produce his first masterpiece, Nabucco. A tremendous success, Nabucco catapulted Verdi to the status of a celebrity in Italy. Foods and toys were named after him, and he was paid an astounding amount for his next operatic work, I Lombardi. I Lombardi led to Verdi’s first conflict with the Austrian authorities. Attempting to maintain control over Italy, strict censorship governed Italian operas. Verdi soon became known as a champion of Italy’s rights, as he would infuse contemporary political issues into his operas.

From 1844 to 1851 Verdi wrote prolifically, producing at least ten operas. However, his finest pieces were still unwritten. Starting with the production of Rigo/etto in 1851, Verdi became one of the greatest operatic composers in the world. The Khedive of Egypt commissioned the writing and production of Aida to celebrate the opening of an opera house that commemorated the building of the Suez Canal. Due to problems caused by the Franco-Prussian War, the opera was delayed by two years. However, its opening was a magnificent spectacle of beauty and brilliance. The audience’s excitement was uncontainable, and the conductor could hardly concentrate over the constant clapping. Verdi chose not to attend this production, and was quite displeased by the garish manner in which the opera was promoted and presented.

Having accumulated significant wealth, Verdi purchased a large farm at S ant’ Agata, a town two miles from Busseto. He revealed his inherent love for farming, and took great pride in tending to his crops and gardens. After living with Giuseppina Strepponi for many years, he married her in 1859. Although he did not want to participate in politics, he served as deputy when he was elected, and later served as a Senator when the King appointed him to the position.

For fifteen years, Verdi wrote no operas, and simply enjoyed the pleasures of farm life. However, Sarrigo Boito, a noteworthy composer and poet, brought him a libretto based on Shakespeare’s Othello. Verdi was so moved by the libretto that he was driven to produce his next opera, Otello. This work was a raging success and led Verdi to produce dramatic operas based on Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor, and Henry VI.

Following the death of his beloved Giuseppina, Verdi moved away from his farm and into the Grand Hotel in Milan. A few years later he suffered from a paralytic stroke, and wavered between life and death for six full days. During this period fans and musicians lined the streets, awaiting information about the beloved composer’s condition. Over 28,000 people lined the streets to mourn the loss of this magnificent man. A husband, farmer, politician, musician, and composer, Verdi met and mastered the challenges in his life. His operas evoke the depth of human experiences, and express the eternal potency and beauty of music.


Note by Shanaira Udwadia (July-2001)