Giuseppe Verdi was the lead composer in the Italian opera scene following the dominance of Donizetti, Bellini, and Rossini. Born in 1813 in a small village near Busseto, a northern Italian province. He is the first child of his family and was born in their home.
Verdi’s gift of musical talent was apparent to his family and educators right away and by the time he was eight years old Verdi was already an appointed organist for pay after his earliest musical teacher passed on. He continued his musical education at the age of twelve when he studied at the music school associated with the Philharmonic Society.
Penning his first operas in the mid 1800’s Giuseppe Verdi would go on to create some of the most well-known operatic pieces in the genre. In this piece we would like to highlight a few for you.
Meaning The Fallen Woman this three act Verdi opera inspired by the Alexandre Dumas novel La Dame aux Camélias inadvertently through a play adapted from the story and was originally titled after the primary character Violetta.
Premiering at the La Fenice opera house in Venice on March 6, 1853 La traviata this staging was set in the past despite Verdi’s wishes and those of his librettist Francesco Maria Piave. The duo intended this opera to have a contemporary setting. It wasn’t produced in this way until nearly thirty years later.
It was when Verdi and his second wife Giuseppina Strepponi were spending time in Paris and went to see a play based on the Dumas novel. Historians say Giuseppe Verdi immediately began writing music that would later turn up in the first produced version of La traviata.
Verdi and his librettist worked diligently to create a great work and, from the response opening night, they didn’t realize how significant this opera would become. Not only did they have multiple obstacles with the La Fenice regarding who performed and what time it was set in, the audience reception was not great.
While the first act was received with applause during the second act the show goers were not happy and the reviews were negative. It is believed that the singers the production hired to play certain roles were not up to par. Specifically Fanny Salvini-Donatelli who performed the lead role of Violetta. She was considered to hefty and old to play a young sick woman.
Over the next few years rewrites were created and new productions were put together and the later receptions of this Verdi opera were well received. Currently, La traviata is one of the most popular operas recreated today. It is considered a standard in the repertoire of opera is the most performed opera of all time.
Click here to watch La traviata by Peter Konwitschny, performed in Austria!
This Verdi opera about an Ethiopian princess is a four act piece with a libretto by Antonio Ghislanzoni. The plot is set in Egypt where the title character is held as a slave. This work by an Italian composer was commissioned and premiered at the Khedivial Opera House in Cairo on December 24, 1871.
Aida is another Giuseppe Verdi opera that takes a solid spot in the repertoire of works regularly performed throughout the world. It has been performed more than eleven-hundred times at the Metropolitan Opera in New York since its first time in 1886.
The Khedive, or leader, of Egypt, Isma’il Pasha contracted Verdi to compose an opera in celebration of Cairo’s new opera house. The composer was paid 150,000 francs for this work of art. Unfortunately, the production in Cairo was put off because the scenery and costumes were delayed at the French capital. The reason the needed supplies were not in transport was due to the Siege of Paris, which was a blow to the French during the Franco-Prussian War.
Eventually Aida was performed at the Khedivial Opera House but it wasn’t at the opening. Instead Verdi’s Rigoletto was presented to the Egyptian audience. When they were finally able to see the opera the audience was enchanted by the performances and the costumes designed by Auguste Mariette. Mariette also supervised the set design, all of which were created in Paris.
Verdi was not in attendance at the Cairo premiere in protest of the audience, which did not include the general public and was secluded to critics, politicians, and dignitaries who were invited. The composer considered the authentic premiere the February 8, 1872 production at La Scala in Milan.
Aida was an instant hit and soon productions were popping up all over Italy including the Teatro Regio di Parma, Teatro di San Carlo, La Fenice, Teatro Regio di Torino, and Teatro Comunale di Bologna. From there it went on to be reproduced in Argentina, The United States, Germany, Spain, Austria, Hungary, Poland, France, Russia, Bohemia, United Kingdom, Monaco, Australia, and Brazil.
Sitting at number twelve of the most performed opera of all time it has been produced over three-hundred times.
Our third opera composed by Giuseppe Verdi is a three act piece based on the Victor Hugo play Le roi s’amuse. The libretto is Italian written by Piave, an earlier collaboration of the two a few years before La traviata. At the time of its inception Austrian censors controlled the productions of Northern Italian theaters and that proved to be an obstacle for the composer and librettist. Still, the premiere was a raving success on March 11, 1851 at the La Fenice in Venice.
The plot centers around the Duke of Mantua, who was promiscuous, and his court jester Rigoletto, and the jester’s lovely daughter Gilda. Originally titled La maledizione or The Curse, this Verdi opera, is the story was commissioned by the Venice opera house La Fenice. It was 1850 and at this point in his career Verdi was very popular. He was in a position to be choosy about what jobs he accepted and which he didn’t.
While this opera was a work Verdi wrote with Piave before La traviata, this was not the first time the two writers worked together. They had already worked on five other operas including Macbeth and Ernani. Giuseppe Verdi approached Piave with the Alexandre Dumas play Kean but they soon realized that this was not the work they were searching for.
Verdi finally discovered the Hugo play and their subject was found. Yet the play painted king Francis I of France as a promiscuous leader with no morals. This type of work was forbidden in Europe for in the Restoration Period following the Napoleonic wars. The Austrian censors did not approve.
Despite the opposition of the censors in Austria, Rigoletto premiered with Giacomo Panizza’s ballet Faust on a double bill to a sold out theater. It was an instant success for Verdi and the La Fenice box-office. Today, it is yet another Verdi opera that is considered a standard in the operatic repertoire and in the top ten operas most-performed.
Our next Verdi opera was composed in 1841 with an Italian libretto by Temistocle Solera, which was inspired by tales in the Book of Jeremiah and the Book of Daniel in the Bible. An important inspirational production was the ballet adaptation of the 1836 play by Auguste Anicet-Bourgeois and Francis Cornue. It premiered in Milan at La Scala on March 9, 1842.
This is the opera that is said to have given Verdi his renowned name and notoriety as a composer. He is quoted as saying, “this is the opera with which my artistic career really begins.” The plot centers around romance and politics while documenting the Jewish predicament of being beaten, overthrown, and banished by King Nabucco.
Bartolomeo Merelli, the director of La Scala in Milan, commissioned three more operas from Verdi after the success of his first opera Oberto. Yet, Verdi’s second opera was a failure, which some believe was due to his composing it during a period in his life when he lost his two children as infants and his young wife. It was after these devastating events that Verdi swore he would leave composition behind him.
Still, Merelli attempted to convince Verdi to come back and write again. The impresario gave Giuseppe Verdi a copy of the libretto that was rejected by another composer and Verdi has said he was so upset he “threw it on the table with an almost violent gesture” but it opened after falling. Verdi was drawn to the words and couldn’t keep from reading it.
It wasn’t that easy though, Verdi avoided it for months and then finally composed music for a scene that would later be cut from the final work. Even though he had some music Verdi went back to Merelli and refused the commission. Merelli would not take no for an answer and locked Verdi out of his office. The composer gave in and steadily created this opera.
The premiere was held at the end of season so it only had eight performances that year. La Scala opened its next season with sixty performances of Nabucco on its schedule. From there it went on to be produced in Venice, Vienna, Lisbon, Greece, and London in the next few years. At the London premiere the name was changed to Nino because it was believed to be improper to play biblical characters on a stage at the time.
This last opera is not one of Verdi’s most popular but it is still performed in some corners of the globe today. It has been produced at the Metropolitan Opera serval times and it has been performed in San Francisco, Chicago, Baltimore, Michigan, San Diego and Tokyo.