Who is Giuseppe Verdi?

Mary McMahon

Giuseppe Verdi, born in 1813, was an Italian composer of opera. His work is well known throughout the world and a number of his operas including La Traviata (1853) and Aida (1871) are still widely performed by opera companies. Giuseppe Verdi had a varied and interesting life, ultimately enjoying immense fame for his work although his beginnings were difficult.

Giuseppe Verdi's operas are still widely performed.
Giuseppe Verdi's operas are still widely performed.

Giuseppe Verdi was born in Roncole, Italy, to impoverished parents. From an early age it was apparent that he had an interest in music. Verdi learned how to play on the church organ, and at age 12 relocated to the nearby town of Busseto to study music with Antonio Provesi. After completing four years of study there, Giuseppe Verdi had years of experience at the organ to his credit, along with several original compositions.

Giuseppe Verdi wrote several operas based on Shakespeare plays.
Giuseppe Verdi wrote several operas based on Shakespeare plays.

In 1832, Giuseppe Verdi relocated to Milan and applied to study at the prestigious conservatory of music. He was not accepted, although one of his examiners recommended a maestro with whom he could study. For the next three years, Giuseppe Verdi studied with Vincenzo Lavigna, a composer who had also performed at the famous La Scala opera house.

In 1835, he returned to Busseto where he was appointed town music master. He also married Margherita Barezzi, with whom he had two children. A string of illnesses resulted in the death of his wife and children by 1840. A member of La Scala witnessed Verdi's despair, and encouraged him to work on a new opera. This opera was to be the turning point of Giuseppe Verdi's career, and although Nabuco is not frequently performed today, the opera had a profound effect on the Italy of Verdi's day.

Giuseppe Verdi only grew in popularity after that, composing over thirty operas running the gamut from Rigoletto (1851), to several Shakespeare operas including Macbeth (1847) and Otello (1887). His operas were performed at many famous venues including La Scala and the Venice Opera House by some of the most famous operatic talents of the time. Like other compositions of the period, Verdi's operas frequently referenced ongoing political events, something which sometimes got him into trouble with censors and critics.

His compositions are marked by distinctive and sometimes difficult arias, unique musical arrangements, and compelling music which stirs the soul of the listener. His operas are among the most widely performed around the world, and his contribution to music is well remembered. At his funeral in 1901, 28,000 people stood in the streets to pay tribute.

Verdi's well-known operatic works that are still performed today include "La Traviata" and "Aida."
Verdi's well-known operatic works that are still performed today include "La Traviata" and "Aida."

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Discussion Comments


May I recommend Verdi's choruses and ensembles (duets, trios, quartets and quintets) from some of his most famous operas as a starting point for Verdi? To me, Verdi is incredible - his choral writing is magnificent and the emotional content of his ensembles is simply awe-inspiring. Discovering Verdi can be a life-changing experience.


Verdi is definitely not a composer for someone who never listened to opera before. It's drama at its best, and he usually got inspiration in complex stories from artists like Voltaire or Shakespeare.

For starters, I would recommend "Rigoletto", since it's an opera where you still notice a heavy influence of Bel Canto. For patient listeners, I would recommend "Don Carlo" as a starter.

For people who like non-stop action, Macbeth would be a perfect choice. I don't think there is another opera with such dynamics as Macbeth.


I saw a performance of Otello in San Francisco a few years back and it was stunning. Up to that point I had only heard recordings of this famous opera, but seeing it on stage elevates it to new levels of beauty and feeling.

The composition is obviously flawless, but this was a particularly ambitious staging that made use of a wonderful orchestra, top notch performers and a very grand but ambitious set. It was performance at its best, a show which engages all of these sense and strives for technical mastery. I would recommend that anyone who gets a chance to see Otello on stage takes advantage of it. Even if the staging is not as ambitious as the one I saw, this work is amazing to see in person regardless of who it is performed by.


@gravois - I wish that I could listen to Verdi with your ears! I consider myself a big fan of opera, but for some reason Verdi has always left me cold. I know that he is considered one of the giants, but I have never been able to engage with his work.

Maybe you could recommend a starting point. Like I say, I am pretty familiar with opera and can listen with a studied ear. What is the piece that will most excite my skeptical tastes? I want to love him I just need someone to guide me through his catalog.


For my money there is no finer Opera than that composed by Verdi.

I was first introduced to him in my 20s and I have spent most of the rest of my life (I am now 56) returning to his work over and over again.

Like all great art it is infinitely complex and surprising. I have listened to several of his works well over 50 times and I still discover new pleasure, hidden gems, and unexpected complications when I listen. It is music that never ever fails to be interesting.

I will admit that it can seem impenetrable at first, but a careful and patient listen will reveal many pleasures which can be enjoyed endlessly. Verdi might not be the first composer I would recommend to a new listener of opera, but he is surely the most exciting.

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