Verdi, Giuseppe, (1813-1901), Italian operatic composer, whose works stand among the greatest in the history of opera.
Born the son of illiterate peasants on October 10, 1813, in Roncole in the French-governed state of Parma, he first studied music in the neighbouring town of Busseto. Then, upon being rejected in 1832, because of his youth, by the Milan Conservatory, he became a pupil of the Milanese composer Vincenzo Lavigna. He returned to Busseto in 1833 as conductor of the Philharmonic Society.
At the age of 25 Verdi again went to Milan. His first opera, Oberto, was produced at La Scala with some success in 1839. His next work, the comic opera Un giorno di regno (King for a Day, 1840), was a failure, and Verdi, lamenting also the recent deaths of his wife and two children, decided to give up composing. After more than a year, however, the director of La Scala succeeded in inducing him to write Nabucco (1842). The opera created a sensation; its subject matter dealt with the Babylonian captivity of the Jews, and the Italian public regarded it as a symbol of the struggle against Austrian rule in northern Italy. I Lombardi (1843) and Ernani (1844), both great successes, followed, but of the next eleven of Verdi's operas only Macbeth (1847) and Luisa Miller (1849) have survived in the permanent operatic repertory. Verdi's three following works, Rigoletto (1851), Il Trovatore (1853), and La Traviata (1853), brought him international fame and remain among the most popular of all operas.
Operas written in the middle of Verdi's career, including Un ballo in maschera (A Masked Ball, 1859), La forza del destino (The Force of Destiny, 1862), and Don Carlo (1867), exhibit a greater mastery of musical characterisation and a greater emphasis on the role of the orchestra than his earlier works. Aïda (1871), also of this period and probably Verdi's most popular opera, was commissioned by the khedive of Egypt to celebrate the opening of the Suez Canal; it was first performed in Cairo. Three years later, Verdi composed his most important non-operatic work, the Requiem Mass in memory of the Italian novelist Alessandro Manzoni (although a version of the Libera me had been written in memory of Rossini, who had died in 1868). Verdi's other non-operatic compositions include the dramatic cantata Inno delle nazioni (Hymn of the Nations, 1862) and the String Quartet in E minor (1873).
In his 70s, Verdi produced perhaps the finest of his operas, Otello (1887), composed to a libretto skilfully adapted by the Italian composer and librettist Arrigo Boito from Shakespeare's tragedy Othello. This was followed by Verdi's last opera, Falstaff (1893), also adapted by Boito from Shakespeare, and generally considered one of the greatest of all comic operas. Verdi died on January 27, 1901, in Milan.
In general, Verdi's works are most noted for their emotional intensity, tuneful melodies, and dramatic characterisations. He transformed the Italian opera, with its traditional set pieces, old-fashioned librettos, and emphasis on vocal display, into a unified musical and dramatic entity. His operas are among those most frequently produced in the world today.
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