Verdi: The Genius Who Wrote Aida

by DavidPaulWagner

Giuseppe Verdi is no doubt the greatest Italian opera composer of the 19th century. His operas have dramatic stories, vocal lines and orchestration, and are bound to sweep you up!

When we think of grand Italian opera, we think of Verdi. His operas always are built around passionate human conflicts and always feature great drama: great dramatic stories, great dramatic vocal lines for the singers, and great underlying orchestration.

Let us explore the life, works and heritage of Verdi -- and view video clips of several of his most famous songs.

Life of Verdi

Born into a humble village family, Giuseppe Verdi had his first music lessons from a local organist. His lessons were supported by local people, such as the tradesman Antonio Barezzi, who admired the young man's talent.

He was refused entrance into the Milan Conservatoire because he was too old, so he studied with a private teacher at Milan's La Scala opera house instead. 

In the years 1838-40 Verdi suffered a devastating emotional loss of his son, daughter and wife all dying. He sank into a depression, but with the encouragement of his friends, he worked away at composing, and in 1839 he experienced his first big success with the production of his opera, Nabucco.

This was followed by the opera Ernani and then, finally, Verdi composed his first fully mature operas, Rigoletto (1851), Il Trovatore (1853) and La Traviata (1853). He was now recognized as Italy's foremost opera composer.

Verdi was now relatively wealthy and bought his own estate near Busseto. He also began touring overseas -- Paris, then St. Petersburg (1861), and London (1862; 1875).

In 1874 he composed the spectacular opera, Aida, which was staged in a new opera in Cairo, Egypt -- in celebration of the opening of the Suez Canal in 1871.

He wrote a Requiem in 1874 to celebrate the life of the Italian poet and novelist, Alessandro Manzoni.

Then came a relatively quiet period in Verdi's creative life until he reached his old age and composed two more very important operas, Otello (1887) and Falstaff (1893).

During his life Verdi was a fervent nationalist and Italian patriot. His operas became symbols of Italy's ongoing struggle for independence from Austria (the Risorgimento movement). For example, the opera Nabucco (1841), which featured an exiled people seeking freedom, was viewed by Italians as a symbol of their own fight for liberation.

He was elected as a Deputy to the first Italian parliament in 1861 but found the parliamentary duties not to his liking and resigned in 1865. However, from 1875 he took up duties as a Senator.

"Va pensiero" (The Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves) from Verdi's opera, Nabucco

The Works of Verdi

Verdi composed more than 30 operas. Some of the most important ones included:

-- Nabucco (Nebuchadnezzar) (1842)
-- Ernani (1844)
-- Rigoletto (1851)
-- Il Trovatore (The Troubador) (1853)
-- La Traviata (The Woman Who Goes Astray) (1853)
-- Les vêpres siciliennes (The Sicilian Vespers) (1855)
-- Un ballo in maschera (A Masked Ball) (1855) 
-- La forza del destino (The Force of Destiny) (1862)
-- Don Carlos (1867)
-- Aida (1871)
-- Otello (Othello) (1887)
-- Falstaff (1893).

He also wrote a number of songs and sacred works, the latter including:
-- Messa da Requiem (Requiem) (1874), a requiem mass in commemoration of Manzoni
-- Quattro pezzi sacri (Four Sacred Works) (1898), one of which was a Te Deum

"La donna è mobile" (Woman is fickle) from Verdi's opera, Rigoletto

The Heritage of Giuseppe Verdi

Verdi was a music composer of the romantic era, especially of opera.

Just before Verdi, bel canto opera had been the prevailing operatic style in Italy. Its main proponents had been Rossini, Bellini and Donizetti. Bel canto (Italian for "beautiful singing") referred to a flowering and intricate style of singing in which the operatic singers had to exhibit a very controlled pitch and a most agile form of delivery in their singing.

Verdi put more emphasis on opera as a music drama. In his operas both the music (often of a very lyrical and harmonic type, supported by excellent orchestration) and the drama (including a well-structured design and fine delineation of characters) are vital, and he aimed to combine the musical and dramatic elements into a single work of art.

Rather than set pieces where the great singer would show off his vocal talents, Verdi's operas -- especially the later ones -- combine music and libretto into a swiftly-moving drama which moves forcefully and inevitably towards its end. Singers were still given great melodies and soaring melodies, but in Verdi's operas music is used to shape and move forward the dramatic action.

Somewhat similarly to Wagner, Verdi associates certain music themes and leitmotifs with designated characters and events.

Verdi's final two operas (Otello; Falstaff) were inspired by William Shakespeare. Interestingly, Falstaff was also Verdi's first attempt at writing comic opera -- and this attempt was crowned with success.

Verdi's kind of opera --"grand opera" -- was then and remains now widely successful. Verdi was, together with Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924), one of Italy's supreme operatic composers of all time.

The Triumphal March from Verdi's Opera, Aida

Verdi on the Internet

Verdi Quotes
Entertaining quotations from and about Verdi.

Giuseppe Verdi
Information from Stanford University's OperaGlass on all the operas of Verdi.

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Updated: 05/21/2015, DavidPaulWagner
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Rose on 09/25/2013

I love La Traviata! Lovely page.

Tolovaj on 05/15/2012

Music of Giuseppe Verdi is part of world cultural heritage. I know people who would not enter a theater or opera house even if you pay them, but when they hear a popular part from one of his pieces start mumbling in the rhythm of his timeless music. His work simply overpower their prejudices.

Thanks for great overview of the maestro!

DavidPaulWagner on 04/08/2012

Thank you, Mladen. Verdi is widely loved. Even his great rival, the composer Richard Wagner, spoke of Verdi as a "a name that will leave a most powerful impression on the history of art".

Mladen on 04/07/2012

I love his operas! Nabucco and Aida are in my hearth from the first hearing when I was child.
This is well written and informative article on Verdi. Genius like Verdi deserves to have an article on wizzley!

DavidPaulWagner on 04/05/2012

Thanks, katiem2. Glad you are enjoying the series!

katiem2 on 04/04/2012

Thank you for continuing to bring are in music to us. Love the videos. Verdi is a genius for certain, I've enjoyed this a great deal.

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