Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901)

Giuseppe Verdi was born on October 10, 1813, in the village of Le Roncole, about 90 miles (140 km) southeast of Milan. Today this village is in Italy but, when Verdi was born, it was in France and under the control of Napoleon. When Verdi was still a child his parents moved to the nearby town of Busseto.

Verdi moved to Milan when he was 20. There he studied composition and went to operas. In his thirties, he also participated in a salon organized by the countess Clara Maffei. This salon was a regular meeting of people, with similar tastes and interests, who got together for mutual pleasure and inspiration.

In the mid-1830s, Verdi moved back to Busseto where he became the town’s musician. He married one of his students, Margherita Barezzi, in May 1836. She gave birth to healthy babies in 1837 and 1838 but both died early. Then she became sick and died in June 1840 at the age of 26. These three deaths left Verdi heartbroken.

La Scala is Milan’s famous opera house. Verdi’s first opera was performed there in 1839. It was good enough for Bartolomeo Merelli, the manager of the opera house, to pay Verdi to write two more.

Verdi’s wife died while he was writing his second opera. When it was first performed in September 1840, it did not do well. Between family tragedy and professional failure, Verdi felt like never writing music again.

Merelli talked Verdi into writing one more opera. This one, first performed in March 1842, did very well and made Verdi famous. He went on to write many more operas.

In the mid-1840s, Verdi fell in love with an opera singer named Giuseppina Strepponi. The two lived happily together without first getting married. People at the time thought this was very bad. Verdi bought some land near Busseto. He and Strepponi moved there in 1851. They did finally get married in August 1859. Strepponi died in 1897.

Three of Verdi’s operas are considered masterpieces. Rigoletto was based on a play by Victor Hugo and first performed in Venice in 1851. La Traviata was based on a play by another French author, Alexandre Dumas (the son), and premiered in Venice in 1853. The first European performance of Aida, an opera set in Egypt, was in Milan in 1872.

Verdi died in Milan on January 27, 1901, at the age of 87.

Copyright © 2012 by Steven Farsaci. All rights reserved. Fair use encouraged.