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Composer Giuseppe Verdi was born on October 10, 1813 in Roncole, near Busseto, Italy. After some years as a conductor in small communities, Giuseppe Verdi submitted an unsolicited opera to La Scala, entitled Oberto, conte di Bonfacio. Based on its success, Verdi was given a contract for three further operas.
However, his next opera failed and the deaths of his wife and two young children sent him into a deep depression. He composed nothing for nearly a year.
Everything changed with the premiere of Nabucco in 1842. The Italian people strongly identified with its politically charged biblical story, securing Verdi’s fame throughout the country.
From 1842 to 1853 he wrote 16 operas, with performances in Milan, Rome, Naples, Venice, Florence, Trieste, Paris and London. The operas included his biggest hits: Rigoletto, Il Trovatore and La Traviata. Verdi looked to great writers for inspiration including Victor Hugo (Rigoletto), Schiller (Luisa Miller) and Shakespeare (Macbeth).
In the following 18 years, Verdi’s output slowed to six operas: Simon Boccanegra, Un ballo in maschera, Don Carlos, Aida, Les vêpres siciliennes and La forza del destino.
Interestingly, Verdi employed no agent or manager, negotiating commissions personally from theatre managements with Ricordi, his publisher and consultant, by his side.
By this point Verdi was not only the great man of opera, but also a national hero. Even Verdi’s name was used as a political acronym: Vittorio Emmanuele, Rè d’Italia (Victor Emmanuel was to be the first King of a united Italy).
After Aida’s premiere in Cairo in 1871, Verdi did not write another opera for the next 16 years. He traveled through Europe, watching over his productions, and wrote his famous Requiem. Late in life, Verdi created two final works, Otello and Falstaff.
Verdi suffered a stroke and died on January 27, 1901 in Milan.
(l – r) Catherine Naglestad as Amelia, Piotr Beczala as Riccardo, Dalibor Jenis as Renato, Anna Prohaska as Oscar, Oliver Zwarg as Samuel and Andreas Bauer as Tom in the Berlin Staatsoper production of Un ballo in maschera. Photo: Ruth Walz © 2008