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Giuseppe Verdi

Giuseppe Verdi

(1813 - 1901)

"Of all composers, past and present, I am the least learned. I mean that in all seriousness, and by learning I do not mean knowledge of music." ~ Verdi, 1869

Giuseppe Fortunino Francesco Verdi (October 10, 1813 - January 27, 1901) was born in Roncole in the former duchy of Parma, he first studied music in the neighboring town of Busseto. Then, upon being rejected in 1832, because of his age, 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 ten productions 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 characterization 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. 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 the supreme expression of his genius, Otello (1887), composed to a libretto skillfully adapted by the Italian composer and librettist Arrigo Boito from the Shakespearean 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.

In general, Verdi's works are most noted for their emotional intensity, tuneful melodies, and dramatic characterizations. He transformed the Italian opera, with its traditional set pieces, old-fashioned librettos, and emphasis on vocal displays, into a unified musical and dramatic entity. His operas are among those most frequently produced in the world today.

Recommended Recordings

Core Repertoire - Start Here! Aïda (opera)  Main theme

Aïda (1871)/London 417416-2
Leontyne Price, Gorr, Vickers, Merrill, Tozzi, George Solti/Rome Opera Orchestra & Chorus
Aïda (1871)/London 417416-2
Millo, Zajick, Plácido Domingo, Morris, Ramey, James Levine/Metropolitan Opera Orchestra & Chorus

Falstaff (opera)

Falstaff (1893)/Deutsche Grammophon 410503-2
Ricciarelli, Hendricks, Valentini, Gonzalez, Bruson, Nucci, Carlo Maria Guilini/Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra & Chorus
Falstaff (1893)/EMI CDC7496682
Schwarzkopf, Moffo, Merriman, Barbieri, Alva, Gobbi, Panerai, Zaccaria, Herbert von Karajan/Philharmonia Orchestra & Chorus

Macbeth (opera)

Macbeth (1847)/Deutsche Grammophon 415688-2
Cappuccilli, Verrett, Ghiaurov, Domingo, Claudio Abbado/La Scala Orchestra & Chorus
Macbeth (1847)/Philips 412133-2
Zampieri, Bruson, Lloyd, Shicoff, Giuseppe Sinopoli/German Opera Orchestra & Chorus

Otello (opera)

Otello (1887)/RCA RCD2-2951
Scotto, Domingo, Milnes, James Levine/National Philharmonic Orchestra & Ambrosian Singers
Otello (1887)/RCA RCD2-2951
Ricciarelli, Domingo, Diaz, Lorin Maazel/La Scala Orchestra & Chorus

Requiem Mass

Requiem Mass (1874)/Telarc CD-80152
Dunn, Curry, Hadley, Plishka, Robert Shaw/Atlanta Symphony Orchestra & Chorus
Requiem Mass (1874)/EMI CDC7472572
Schwarzkopf, Ludwig, Gedda, Ghiaurov, Carlo Maria Giulini/Philharmonia Orchestra & Chorus

Core Repertoire - Start Here! Rigoletto (opera)

Rigoletto (1851)/London 425864-2
Anderson, Pavarotti, Nucci, Ghiaurov, Verrett, Riccardo Chailly/Orchestra e Coro del Teatro comunale di Bologna
Rigoletto (1851)/Philips 412592-2
Grubernova, Fassbaender, Schicoff, Bruson, Lloyd, Giuseppe Sinopoli/Accademia di Santa Cecilia Orchestra & Chorus

Core Repertoire - Start Here! La Traviata (opera)

La Traviata (1853)/Deutsche Grammophon 415132-2
Cotrubas, Domingo, Milnes, Carlos Kleiber/Bavarian State Opera Orchestra & Chorus
La Traviata (1853)/RCA 4414-2-RG
Moffo, Tucker, Merrill, Fernando Previtali/Rome Opera Orchestra & Chorus

Core Repertoire - Start Here! Il Trovatore (opera)

Il Trovatore (1853)/Deutsche Grammophon 413355-2
Plowright, Fassbaender, Domingo, Zancanaro, Carlo Maria Giulini/Accademia di Santa Cecilia Orchestra & Chorus
Il Trovatore (1853)/RCA 6194-2-RC
Price, Cossotto, Domingo, Milnes, Zubin Mehta//Philharmonia Orchestra & Chorus