RONCOLE, NEAR BUSSETO, 1813 – MILAN, 1901
Verdi was born into a family of modest means—although perhaps not as modest as he liked to claim. He began his musical education with the village organist, went on to study with the maestro di musica in Busseto, and from there completed his studies in Milan—then considered the capital of Italian culture—with Lavigna, répétiteur at La Scala. Lavigna taught him counterpoint and composition, and encouraged him to attend opera performances. A few years later, through contacts he made in Milan, he was able to present his first opera, Oberto (1839). It was so successful that he was commissioned to write three others, including Nabucco (1842), which triumphed at La Scala. The opera’s patriotic theme—Italy was in the throes of a powerful movement to resurrect the Italian nation (Risorgimento)—significantly bolstered his popularity and saw him consecrated as poet of the Italian Renaissance (vate del Risorgimento). This was followed by what Verdi dubbed his “galley years,” in which he composed an opera every nine months or so. This period culminated in the “popular trilogy” of his three masterpieces—Rigoletto (1851), Il trovatore (1853) and La traviata (1853)—which attest to his stylistic maturity and made him the most popular opera composer in Italy. They often feature chaste, courageous heroines who are condemned to unhappiness, either by society or the powers that be. After spending a few years in Paris, he tried his hand at grand opera, then in vogue in the French capital, with Les vêpres siciliennes (1855). This was followed by six other operas, including Aida, which premiered in 1871. He would not return to opera until 1887, with his final masterpieces, Otello (1887) and Falstaff (1893). In his lifetime and after his death, Verdi achieved unequalled fame in the world of opera.