The great Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi was born in La Roncole on October 10, 1813. Displaying considerable talent from an early age, he was assistant organist at the small local church by the time he was 10.
In 1829, at the age of 13, he was an assistant conductor of the Busseto orchestra and an organist at the town church. In 1836, Verdi married Margherita Barezzi, the daughter of his greatest benefactor. His first successful opera, Oberto, opened at La Scala in 1839. However, his next opera, the comedy, Un Giorno di Regno (King for a Day), was a complete failure.To add tragedy to insult, Verdi lost his wife and two young children to illness within the same year, and the despondent composer resolved to give up music altogether. Fortunately, the manager of La Scala persuaded him to persevere and write his next opera – Nabucco, which premiered in 1842 to great acclaim and securing Verdi’s reputation as a major figure in the music world.
Between 1844 and 1850, Verdi was prolific, demonstrating a maturing style and more flowing musical line, as evidenced in Ernani (1844), Macbeth (1847), and Luisa Miller (1849).
During his “middle period,” Verdi wrote three of his most successful operas: Rigoletto (1851), Il Trovatore (1853) and La Traviata (1853). Verdi sought to write strong human characters. He often liked telling the stories of people marginalized by society. Aida, as an enslaved Ethiopian princess, is a prime example.
At Aida’s Milan premiere, Verdi (who also conducted) was brought back on stage for 32 curtain calls and was presented with an ivory baton made of diamonds with “Aida” spelled in rubies.
After Aida (1871), which commemorated the opening of the Suez Canal in Egypt, Verdi retired to his estate at Sant’Agata, where he wrote the great Requiem Mass. The composer was drawn back to the opera by his publisher, Giulio Ricordi, who introduced him to the celebrated poet and composer Arrigo Boito. They worked together on what would be Verdi’s final triumphs, both based on works by Shakespeare: Otello (1886) Falstaff (1893), the only other comedy he had written since the disastrous Un Giorno di Regno and considered Verdi’s humanistic masterpiece.
Upon his death in 1901, there were scenes of national mourning for the man who was a great musician, philanthropist and patriot to all of Italy. At the funeral, the 28,000 people who lined the streets of Milan broke out softly and spontaneously into Va pensiero, the great chorus of the Hebrew slaves from Nabucco – a song which had become Italy’s unofficial national anthem.
Verdi was buried with his second wife, Giuseppina Strepponi, at the Casa di Riposo, a retirement home for elderly musicians established by Verdi himself.