Verdi (10 October 1813 – 27 January 1901) was the greatest of all Italian opera composers. He was the most eminent composer in Italian opera after the eras of Bellini, Donizetti and Rossini. More than 100 years after his death the works of Giuseppe Verdi form a major part of today’s opera repertoire. ‘The Drinking Song’ from La Traviata, ‘The Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves’ from Nabucco and ‘La Donna è Mobile’ from Rigoletto are as well known in popular culture as they are in the world of opera. Father and daughter relationships are a recurrent theme in his work, as are the subjects of injustice, oppression and religious hypocrisy. Although he was a profoundly serious man his final opera, Falstaff, was a brilliant comedy.
Best Verdi Works: 10 Essential Pieces By The Great Composer
La Forza Del Destino
La Forze Del Destino contains some of Verdi’s most brilliant choral writing and several beautiful and intimate arias. Leonora’s father is accidentally shot dead by her lover, Don Alvaro. Carlo (Leonora’s brother) swears vengeance and tracks Alvaro to a monastery, is killed in a duel, but not before stabbing Leonore!
Aida, one of Verdi’s best operas, is a timeless story of love and betrayal set in Ancient Egypt. This is Verdi’s grand opera to end all grand operas, featuring a potential cast of hundreds, and enough spectacles and set pieces to rival many a Cecil B. DeMille historical blockbuster.
Don Carlos, based on Schiller’s dramatic play, is a tale of three generations of Spanish royalty. This opera was a turning point for Verdi who allowed the various strands of the plot to evolve with a naturalness, almost entirely avoiding the short-term, high-impact, thrills of his earlier work.
Totally free of the usual operatic set pieces and crowd-pleasing virtuoso numbers Falstaff, one of the greatest operatic comedies of all time and one of the best Verdi works, is composed of a seamless flow of musical poetics. The story is an amalgamation of scenes from Shakespeare, primarily drawn from the comedy The Merry Wives of Windsor. Verdi truly saved his best until last!
Operatic barnstormer with a highly convoluted plot, which transforms such potentially ludicrous incidents as a gypsy throwing the ‘wrong’ baby onto a bonfire into gripping drama. The opera’s themes of jealousy, revenge and love play out against a hauntingly beautiful, wintry landscape that has been riven by war.
La Traviata had an initially lukewarm reception, but after Verdi revised the work in 1854 it became enormously successful. It is currently the most performed opera in the world and is one of Verdi’s best works. Featuring one of the most iconic, romantic and tragic scores of all time Verdi’s masterpiece contrasts spectacular party scenes with tender moments.
Otello was one of the great musical come-backs – at the premiere Verdi was called out by the weeping audience over 20 times and then his carriage was dragged back to his hotel by adoring fans. Based on William Shakespeare’s play Othello, the opera was Verdi’s next-to-last and brought the composer to the peak of his dramatic power.
Rigoletto, a tragic story of jealousy, vengeance and sacrifice, is one of Verdi’s most popular and best operas. To get Rigoletto past the censors Verdi had to convince them that it wasn’t in bad taste to have a singing hunchback as the central character, and also tone down the Duke’s libidinal exploits!
Un Ballo In Maschera
Love, power and politics collide in Un Ballo In Maschera – based on the real life assassination of King Gustav III of Sweden who was shot at a masked ball in 1792. In order to avoid upsetting Swedish sensibilities with A Masked Ball, Verdi had the character of the assassinated King changed to ‘Riccardo, Earl of Warwick’!
Messa Da Requiem
Verdi’s Messa Da Requiem is one of the most famous and enthralling settings of the Requiem Mass and one of his best works. Inspired by the death of writer Alessandro Manzoni, Verdi’s Requiem split audiences right down the middle between those who found his operatic style inappropriate – and those who loved it!