When, on 9 March 1842, the premiere of Nabucco at La Scala in Milan erupted in triumph, decreeing the success of Giuseppe Verdi, the composer of Busseto had just experienced terrible family bereavements and little appreciation of his first two operas.
In previous years he had lost both his two children and his first wife Margherita Barezzi.
On the golden wings of Nabucco, which was represented all over Italy and half of Europe, Verdi worked tirelessly and declared: From Nabucco onwards I have not had, one can say, an hour of quiet. 16 years in jail”.
In this period he composed thirteen operas, including Rigoletto, Traviata, Ernani and in the following decade he reached the peaks of Aida and Falstaff.
In addition to representing the Italian genius in a ruthless field like that of classical music, Verdi gave a new meaning to the word homeland, so much so that his works were the metaphysical engine of the Risorgimento.
Giuseppe Verdi, the absolute giant of Italian opera, was born on 10 October 1813 in Roncole di Busseto, in the province of Parma, from a modest family.
Although his family was very humble, his parents put their trust in his abilities from an early age and encouraged him to study music.
So, from an early age, Giuseppe Verdi began to study music in a simple, perhaps not very traditional way, playing a spinet received as a gift from his father.
Giuseppe Verdi and his history with music
After studying music as a child, without the guidance of a real teacher, on his way Giuseppe Verdi meets Antonio Barezzi, a wealthy musician from Busseto who recognizes his immense talent and decides to become his benefactor.
So, in 1831, Barezzi decided to host Giuseppe in his house, to put at his disposal a piano and to insert it in a culturally stimulating context.
It is always thanks to Barezzi’s trust in him that Giuseppe has the opportunity to move to Milan to enter the conservatory: however, he does not pass the entrance exam because he is considered poorly gifted in the piano.
At this point, Barezzi helps him and allows him to stay to study privately in Milan, taking lessons from Vincenzo Lavigna, composer and member of La Scala in Milan.
After studying, he returned to Busseto where, in 1836, he married Barezzi’s daughter Margherita, with whom he had two children: Virginia and Icilio.
Meanwhile, Giuseppe Verdi dedicated himself to composition oriented towards opera and theatre, but his life was overwhelmed by a tragedy: in a very short time between 1838 and 1840 he lost both his wife Margherita and his two children.
The composer, desperate, initially thinks of abandoning music but does not; on the contrary, he begins to bring back his deep and dramatic emotions in his works.
The most important works by Giuseppe Verdi
Giuseppe Verdi was a composer but also a patriot, philanthropist, a man who never forgot his simple origins despite being among the greatest intellectuals of his time.
In his life he composed many works, some of which made history in world classical music.
The first famous opera: Nabucco
Nabucco was born during the most important crisis in the life of Giuseppe Verdi, following the loss of his wife Margherita and children.
The story tells us that, at that time, the composer was meditating on leaving the music but, to change his mind, it was the discovery of a libretto that had been left to him by Bartolomeo Merelli, written by the son of a carbonaro with whom Verdi had collaborated in the past for the Oberto.
It was the Va’ Pensiero, written on the libretto, that gave the composer the push to return to make music and so the Nabucco was born, Verdi’s first great success, performed for the first time in 1842.
Thanks to the immediate success of this work, he began for Giuseppe Verdi the most prolific decade of his career, in which he wrote ten operas and was so demanding that he himself defined, as we have seen, these years as “the years of imprisonment”.
He wrote an opera every year, becoming famous in Italy and Europe, but at the expense of his artistic evolution: the times imposed by the impresarios who commissioned him new works were too tight to allow him to grow as a composer.
It was at the beginning of the 1950s that Verdi pulled the brakes and, while continuing to compose great works, decided to focus more on his professional growth and the evolution of his style.
The artistic evolution of Giuseppe Verdi: Rigoletto, Il Trovatore e l’Aida
Among the most important works composed in the period of artistic rebirth of Verdi is Rigoletto, a drama taken from a play by Victor Hugo (The King is amused) that in France was staged only once and then censored.
Giuseppe Verdi resumed the plot, adapting it and setting it in Mantua: Rigoletto is the court jester of the Duke of Mantua and has a beautiful daughter who is kidnapped by the Duke, causing the wrath of the acrobat who charges a hitman to assassinate the Duke but this, By mistake, he kills his own daughter.
This was the opera that marked the beginning of Verdi’s stylistic growth and his most famous piece is La donna è mobile.
Performed for the first time in Rome, in 1853, Il Trovatore was born a year after Rigoletto and, perhaps, had even more success than the latter.
The plot tells the story of Manrico, a troubadour kidnapped by a gypsy when he was a child, who discovers that he is the brother of the Count of Luna.
Leonora enters the scene, a girl coveted by the Count who, however, falls in love with Manrico: at this point, the Count of Luna, not being aware of his relationship with Manrico, has his brother and the gypsy who had raised him arrested and sentenced them to death.
The two are rescued by Leonora, who agrees to become the Count’s wife in exchange for their freedom, but his plan was to commit suicide once Manrico and his adoptive mother were saved.
When the Count discovers Leonora’s plan, he condemns all three to death, discovering when it was too late that Manrico was his brother.
First staged in Venice in 1853, La traviata was initially unsuccessful.
The following year Giuseppe Verdi decided to propose it again, this time with different performers, and this made a huge difference so much so that the opera had an unstoppable success and became among the most represented in the world in the following years.
The plot is taken from the opera La signora delle camelie and stages a passionate drama that has as its protagonist the love between the courtesan Violetta and her admirer Alfredo.
The two lovers are separated by a series of misunderstandings that insinuate in Alfredo doubts about Violetta’s feelings: in reality, he will discover that she had always been faithful to her but will do it too late, when she is already on her deathbed.
This is considered to be the last classical opera by Verdi before the new trends from Europe, made in 1871 on the occasion of the inauguration of the new theatre in Cairo.
The plot, written by Antonio Ghislanzoni, was inspired by a character of Auguste Mariette, founder of the Cairo Museum.
The story told the story of Aida, the daughter of the king of Ethiopia captured by the Egyptians, who fell in love with the captain of the guards Radamès who, promoted to head the army, would have to face the Ethiopians who marched on Egypt to free Aida.
A love hindered also by the daughter of the pharaoh, Amneris, in love with Radamès but the deepest drama broke out when Radamès, by mistake, revealed the position of his army to Aida and then to the enemy king, Amonasro, also kidnapped after his daughter.
After making this unforgivable mistake, Radamès handed himself over to the priests to be tried for the betrayal that had taken place and was condemned to be buried alive.
The last years of life of Giuseppe Verdi
After the Aida and all the masterpieces composed in these years, Verdi retired to private life with the desire to stay away from the cultural environment that was changing quickly and, in which, he did not recognize himself.
After a period of quiet that lasted about ten years, he met Arrigo Boito who, although in previous years he had despised the composer, was the author of the librettos of his last operas, Otello and Falstaff.
Giuseppe Verdi died in Milan in 1901, struck by a stroke: his funeral was simple, without flowers or music, proving how much he had remained a humble man, despite the national and international fame achieved in life. His social focus is represented by the retirement home for musicians in Milan, founded in 1899 and still active. Here, in a crypt open to the public, lie the remains of Verdi and his wife Giuseppina.