Verdi, Giuseppe (vârˈdē, Ital. jōzĕpˈpā vĕrˈdē) [key], 1813–1901, foremost Italian composer of opera, b. Le Roncole. Verdi, the son of an innkeeper, showed a precocious talent for the organ but was refused entrance to the Milan Conservatory as having been inadequately trained. He studied with Lavigna of La Scala, and in 1839 his first opera, Oberto, conte di San Bonifacio, was produced. His third opera, Nabucodonosor (1842, also known as Nabucco ; the story of Nebuchadnezzar), was enormously successful. The next work I Lombardi alla prima Crociata (1843), concerning the First Crusade, assured Verdi's position at La Scala. Among his major successes of the next years were Ernani (1844), Rigoletto (1851), considered his first masterpiece, Il Trovatore (1853), and La Traviata (1853). These works showed him to be a master of dramatic composition and established him securely. Verdi's style was further developed in Un ballo in maschera [a masked ball] (1859) and La forza del destino [the power of destiny] (1862). In Aïda (1871) all the elements of his earlier style reach maturity, the music assuming a new dramatic importance to the story. Verdi next composed his great Requiem (1874) in memory of the writer Manzoni. Verdi greatly admired Shakespeare, on whose plays three of his operas are based— Macbeth (1847; rev. version 1865) and the masterpieces of his old age, Otello (1887) and Falstaff (1893; based on The Merry Wives of Windsor ), for both of which Boito was librettist. In these two late works, finished at ages 73 and 80, Verdi astonished the musical world with a power, subtlety, and brilliance that marked the culmination of Italian grand opera. Verdi was greatly honored during his lifetime. He was elected a senator and offered a marquisate, which he declined. His superbly melodic works are performed throughout the world.
See his letters, ed. by C. Osborne (1971); biographies by F. Walker (1962), G. W. Martin (1963), J. Wechsberg (1974), M. J. Phillips-Matz (1994), and J. Rosselli (2000); study of his operas by J. Budden (3 vol., 1978–81); G. Wills, Verdi's Shakespeare (2011).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.