One of the most famous composers of his era, Giuseppe Verdi is a mainstay in today's operatic repertory. Born outside of Busseto, Italy, Verdi was actually denied admittance into the Milan conservatory when he was 17. Luckily, local merchant and amateur musician Antonio Barezzi decided to pay for him to study privately with the concertmaster at La Scala. Verdi married Barezzi's daughter Margherita in 1836, and his first opera, "Oberto," was premiered at La Scala in 1839.
The success of "Oberto" led the impresario at La Scala to offer Verdi a contract for three more operas, but the death of his wife and disastrous failure of "Un giorno di regno" triggered a crisis of confidence in the young composer. Verdi emerged from his despair in 1842 with the triumphant success of his second commissioned opera, "Nabucco," which brought him renown throughout Italy.
Verdi produced 16 operas in the next 10 years, during which time he constantly traveled between operatic centers, frequently falling ill and swearing to renounce operatic composition once he achieved financial security. His fame did allow him to charge unprecedentedly high fees for new operas, allowing him to begin to buy land in and around Busseto as early as 1844. He began seeing the soprano Giuseppina Strepponi around this time, causing a scandal until their marriage almost 15 years later.
After "La traviata" premiered in 1853, Verdi's production rate slowed considerably. Only producing seven new works in the next 18 years, Verdi spent an increasing amount of time away from the theater. After the premier of "Aida" in 1871, Verdi didn't premiere his last two operas for 16 years. Spending most of his time overseeing his land, Verdi devoted much money and energy to the building of a hospital in Piacenza and the founding of a home for retired musicians, Casa di Riposo, in Milan.
While much of the nationalistic spirit that seemed to imbue Verdi's operas was superimposed from without, there is no denying the political importance of his music during the Risorgimento. In 1859, "Viva VERDI" became a rallying cry for the future king of Italy, the letter's of Verdi's last name serving as an acronym for Vittorio Emanuele Re D'Italia. The "Va, pensiero" chorus from Nabucco -- the unofficial anthem of the Risorgimento -- was performed during his state funeral by a massive choir of hundreds of musicians from throughout Italy.
-- Arielle Basile