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Giuseppe Verdi, composer of Nabucco, La Traviata and Aida, was an inspired tunesmith who took the operatic world by storm with a stream of hit titles.
'Celeste Aida' in a stunning new recording from star Maltese tenor Joseph Calleja - there's much more on his new Verdi album here.
Was Verdi really all that he’s cracked up to be?
Verdi’s reputation as the greatest of all Italian opera composers is beyond dispute. His dramatic flair and phenomenal expressive range, coupled with an apparently inexhaustible supply of memorable tunes, continue to thrill spectacle-hungry opera audiences to this day. Not even Puccini can quite compare with his predecessor’s monumental achievement. Indeed, for many music lovers Verdi’s music defines what opera is really all about, even if in the last resort Wagner was the more influential of the two.
Is it true that Verdi premiered both Il Trovatore and La Traviata in just two months?
Incredibly, yes - early in 1853. Despite Il Trovatore’s inscrutable plot and La Traviata’s unlikely spectacle of a terminal consumptive singing flat out, Verdi’s indelible melodic flair and combustible inspiration resulted in two more winners.
But didn’t La Traviata prove a flop to start with?
Yes, the most popular opera of all time made the wrong sort of impact at its premiere, especially the burly principal soprano, whose attempts at portraying a dying consumptive brought forth roars of laughter from the audience.
So Verdi simply churned this stuff out to order then?
Anything but! Verdi was so meticulous in every detail that his publishers were ordered not to allow even the smallest of alterations “on pain of a 1,000-franc fine, which I shall demand of you for every theatre where a change is made in a score!”
Wasn’t Verdi also something of a national hero?
Absolutely. Verdi found his own name adapted as a popular cry for Italian independence (“Viva Verdi!”) in support of the future king of Italy. “VERDI” became an acronym for “Vittorio Emanuele, Re D’Italia” (Vittorio Emanuele, King of Italy).
So which of his operas scored the greatest success?
For sheer razzmatazz, the premiere of Aïda really takes some beating. A special boat was laid on to take the various dignitaries from Italy to Cairo, who were rewarded with a spectacular evening on which every conceivable expense had been lavished.