Giuseppe Fortunino Frencesco Verdi was THE Italian opera guy, writing intensely lyrical and robust opera music. A direct contemporary of Richard Wagner (THE German opera guy), the two composers couldn’t have been more different. While Wagner worshipped ancient legends and theories, Verdi had strong intuition for powerful melodies that conveyed feelings. Verdi gave the people what they wanted: great songs that were fun to sing, and as Verdi’s abilities expanded and developed, he brought his fan base with him.
Verdi had the ability to tap into the nationalistic vibes going on in Italy at the time. Italy was struggling for freedom from Austrian domination, and his music was subject to the Austrian censors, scouting for nationalistic content in his music. Protestors would graffiti the walls and cry out “Viva Verdi!”, referring to “Viva Vittorio Emanuele Re d’Italia” (“Long live Victor Emmanuel, King of Italy”). If the censors complained, people said they were simply proclaiming their love of their favourite composer.
In Italy, opera was the people’s art, and the pop music of its day. The public wanted soap opera: tear-jerking melodrama, bloodshed, intrigue, and lust: think Game of Thrones sung in brilliant, lyrical song form.
His death had the effect on the nation as if a hockey legend passed away in Canada. When his body was laid in its final resting place, a chorus of over 800 singers performed a passage from one of his operas, Nabucco, conducted by the most famous conductor at the time, Arturo Toscanini. A crowd of 300,000 turned out.
One of Verdi’s most beloved and quintessentially Italian songs is “La donna è mobile” (“Woman is fickle”) from the opera Rigoletto, sung here by another beloved Italian, tenor Luciano Pavarotti.
Giuseppe Verdi was born October 13, 1813 near the town of Busseto, and died January 27, 1901, in Milan.