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Composer of the Week: Giuseppe Verdi

October 10, 2013

Guiseppe VerdiFrom September 2013 through August 2014, there will be more than 2,475 full performances of operas by today’s birthday boy, Giuseppe Verdi. Mozart operas will get a little over 1,550; Puccini, 1,425; and Wagner, 821. You might think that’s because this is a big anniversary year for Verdi — there are 200 candles on the cake this year.

But no, that’s pretty much the way it is every year. Verdi’s shows are the tentpoles of the operatic bigtop. And that’s not only because he was a great composer, who could write wonderful tunes for the voice. Verdi was an amazing dramatist who picked the subjects for his dramas and usually closely supervised his librettists (who wrote the “book” of the show). He handled a huge variety of subjects from epics (Nabucco, Aida) to tearjerkers and domestic tragedy (Luisa Miller, La traviata) to Shakespeare (Macbeth, Otello, Falstaff) to political thrillers (Simon Boccanegra) and horror stories (Il trovatore). If you’re an opera composer, especially one growing up in the rough-and-tumble opera business of Verdi’s day, you also have to be your own advocate and businessman. Verdi drove a hard bargain and was notoriously touchy about perceived personal slights. But at the same time, he was a realist who learned a huge amount of stagecraft (partly by directing his own shows), could compromise when necessary, and often motivated performers to go beyond routine to get at dramatic truth. He demanded high production standards in all of his operas and won out most of the time. Those are the real reasons why Verdi’s operas are performed so much that even when the opera world wants to put on a Verdi celebration, it really can’t. Learn more about Verdi’s life and music, listen to playlists, watch videos and more at SFCV’s Composer Gallery page.

Michael Zwiebach is the senior editor/ content manager for SFCV. He assigns all articles and content, manages the writing staff and does editing. A member of SFCV from the beginning, Michael holds a Ph.D. in music history from the University of California, Berkeley.