Born in 1813 as Giuseppe Fortunino Francesco Verdi in Le Roncole, near Busseto in Parma, Italy, Verdi is revered as one of the great 19th century Italian opera masters. His instincts and talents for producing dramatic plots and beautiful melodies resulted in the creation of more than 30 compositions, with Verdi’s opera list including six of his most distinguished and celebrated works: Rigoletto (1851), La traviata (1853), Il trovatore (1853), Aida (1871), Otello (1887), and Falstaff (1893).
Despite the success of Giuseppe Verdi’s operas, his life was impacted by political movements and deep personal tragedies, from the chorus of Nabucco, ‘Va, pensiero’, which became a political anthem for the unification movement, to the tragic and untimely death of his family.
Raised by a small family of innkeepers, his father recognised his talent early, buying him a spinet and paying for his musical education. He quickly blossomed and was introduced to Ferdinando Provesi, owner of the local music school. He inspired Verdi, allowing him to attend local orchestra performances and enhancing his musical education. By the age of 12, he was the village’s organist and an assistant conductor.
His aptitude for music caught the attention of local wealthy merchant and music aficionado, Antonio Barezzi, who subsequently became his benefactor. Having already gained a strong foundation in music and composition, his benefactor allowed him to travel to Milan, the intellectual and musical heart of Italy.
Initially hoping to study at the Milan Conservatory, he was turned away for being over the accepted age limit. Instead, Verdi studied privately under the expertise of La Scala harpsichordist, Vincenzo Lavigna. These three years greatly inspired Verdi, allowing him to explore opera and composition, as well as literature and politics.
Verdi returned to his hometown of Busseto in 1835, where he was appointed music master. He continued in this post for three years and composed several original works during this period, including his first opera, Oberto. Performed at La Scala in 1839, the opera was an instant success, with well-known music publisher Giovanni Ricordi purchasing the rights – a relationship that would last until Ricordi’s death.
During this time, he fell in love with Margherita, the daughter of his benefactor, whom he married in 1836. However, his happiness was short-lived. A period of great personal tragedy, the couple had two children in 1837 and 1838, but both died shortly after their first birthdays. This was followed by the death of Verdi’s beloved wife in 1840, and the catastrophic failure of his second opera, Un giorno di regno.
Despite his personal loss and brief renunciation of his passion, Verdi returned to his art, composing Nabucco in 1841. Performed for the first time in 1842, Verdi was henceforth known as an operatic master. This success acted as the catalyst for his most creative and productive period: the ‘galley years’.
Giuseppe Verdi composed the majority of his operas during the next 11 years, writing a total of 16 works, including some of his most celebrated masterpieces: Rigoletto (1851), Il trovatore (1853) and La traviata (1853). As such, by his 30s, Verdi was one of the most recognisable, influential and distinguished Italian opera composers.
During this period, Verdi also began a relationship with Giuseppina Strepponi, a leading soprano who had featured in many of his works. This was a somewhat scandalous affair, as the couple lived together for many years before eventually marrying in 1859.
After the huge success of Il trovatore and La traviata, Verdi began to approach his work with a more studied and steady approach. Focussing on larger compositions, he was able to produce more intricate and diverse works. This includes the acclaimed and ever-popular Aida (1871).
Following this success, he spent the best part of the following three decades on his estates in Sant’Agata, dedicating himself to philanthropic pursuits, including the Casa di Riposo per Musicisti, a home for musicians in Milan.
In 1881, after a lengthy collaboration with librettist Arrigo Boito, Verdi returned with the premier of the well-received Simon Boccanegra. This alliance led to the creation of his last two masterpieces and the culmination of his life’s work: Otello (1887) and Falstaff (1893).
Returning to his property to Sant’Agata, Giuseppe Verdi’s death occurred on 27th January 1901. Hailed as Italy’s biggest public event, a public funeral was held in Milan with a reported 300,000 people in attendance.
Evidently adored during his lifetime, Verdi left an unforgettable legacy and continues to be one of the most notable and celebrated composers. An artist who transformed and developed Italian opera, he produced refined works of art with dramatic plots and distinctive melodies, resulting in masterpieces that are still beloved and performed the world over.
To experience these masterpieces in Giuseppe Verdi’s birthplace, explore our upcoming Opera tour holidays, to attend world leading opera performances in Italy.