ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

The Remarkable Giuseppi Verdi: Opera Part 14

Updated on February 26, 2015
Giuseppe Verdi
Giuseppe Verdi

Giuseppe Verdi 1813-1901

There are different types of musical genius, just like anything else. For J. S. Bach and Mozart, composing was almost like taking dictation from God; they never even had to think about what they were doing and everything came out perfect. Beethoven had to work for longer periods of time to get the effect he wanted, but that effect was earthshaking and timeless. Giuseppe Verdi also had to work to get what he wanted just right, but all who knew him recognized him as a profound genius and were attracted to him as moths are to a light.

Giuseppe Verdi is one of the most remarkable figures in history. There is simply no other artist that ever lived who possessed his level of talent and skill, that was equally brilliant in the world of business. To put just his artistic legacy in perspective, consider that more of Verdi’s operas are performed today than those of any other composer. Another way of looking at it is that if we think of these operas as live theatrical productions, which they are, more tickets are sold for Verdi's events than for those of any other dramatist except Shakespeare. He also had the most crucial impact of any single individual on the liberation and unification of Italy.

Verdi's birthplace, Le Roncole, Italy
Verdi's birthplace, Le Roncole, Italy

Modest but Comfortable Beginnings in Le Roncole

Verdi’s was a very unique type of genius in a number of ways. He did not come from a musical family, but from sturdy peasant stock. When he was born in the tiny hamlet of Le Roncole, near Busseto in the Duchy of Parma, his parents were not dirt poor (as he liked to imply in later years to would-be biographers). They owned and operated a simple tavern, which still stands, from which they made a modest living. But no scholar has yet chased down any musical genes in either Verdi’s father or mother’s (Uttini) side of the family. The environs of Verdi’s birthplace, however, the Po valley, was and had been for centuries, home to some of the most musically cultured people in all of Europe. Maybe the earth itself produced Verdi.

Self taught on an old spinet his father got him when he was very young, by the time he was ten years of age, Verdi was playing for the church services in the town cathedral, and at twelve he was the official organist there. Because Le Roncole had no music teacher, the boy was sent to the market town of Busseto, where he enrolled in its school and took lessons in music fundamentals and on a variety of instruments with Ferdinando Provesi (1770-1833), the director of both religious and band music for the town.

Antonio Barezzi, 1787-1867
Antonio Barezzi, 1787-1867

Antonio Barezzi Verdi’s Benefactor and Biggest Fan

It was not long before Verdi caught the attention of Antonio Barezzi (1787-1867), Busseto’s leading merchant, an accomplished amateur musician and the president of the local filarmonici, a group of unpaid instrumentalists that provided music for weddings, funerals and all kinds of civic events. Barezzi recognized Verdi’s super talent and happily paid for the lessons with Provesi, gave him a job, taught him the basics of business and took the boy in as a boarder. In short, Barezzi became a second father to Verdi and the two remained very close until the older man's death.

Soon Verdi was composing all sorts of music—marches, dances, choruses, etc.—for the exuberant filarmonici. Realizing that Verdi needed the kind of formal training that was not available locally, or even in Parma, Barezzi sent the eighteen-year-old Verdi to seek admission to the Milan Conservatory. The Conservatory faculty board, however, rejected Verdi on the grounds that he was four years over the usual age limit for admission and that his piano technique was not orthodox. (It was also true that the Conservatory’s rules of admission were biased against “foreigners,” as those from Parma would be considered.)

Barezzi finances private composition lessons for Verdi from La Scala concertmaster Vincenzo Lavigna

One of the Board members who favored Verdi’s admission, composer Alessandro Rolla (1757-1841), was very impressed with the youth's talent. Some weeks after the audition, Rolla recommended that Verdi take private composition lessons from Vincenzo Lavigna (1776-1836), the concertmaster of La Scala. Again with Barezzi's financial backing, Verdi rented a room in Milan and studied music from a man who regularly conducted operas at the world's most prestigious opera house. From Lavigna, Verdi attained a thorough grounding in counterpoint and fugue, and must have learned the nuts and bolts about opera performance practice, composition and orchestration—things he could not have learned better from any other source. At this time Verdi must also have started to meet people who were well connected to the Milanese musical establishment.

Verdi's studies came to an abrupt end with the death of Provesi. Summoned back to Busseto by Barezzi and other locals, Verdi was expected by them to take over Provesi's position. When he arrived, Verdi found himself embroiled in a conflict between the secular forces, who wanted him to be the director of music, and the ecclesiastic party, that wanted one of their own in the position. After much wrangling Verdi finally obtained the civic position and for the next three years, he gave lessons and composed the kind of pedestrian and forgettable music that was required. But Verdi's ambition was for composing opera in Milan and, as a matter of fact, he probably composed an opera about this time that has been lost called Rocester, to a libretto by Antonio Piazza.

Margherita Barezzi Verdi
Margherita Barezzi Verdi

Marriage, Children and Heartbreak

Barezzi understood how Verdi felt and sympathized with him. And as if Barezzi had not given Verdi enough, he gave the composer his daughter, Margherita, in marriage. Margherita also believed in Verdi's talent and his aims, so the two of them moved to Milan, with Barezzi's blessing and financial support. Installed in the first city of Italian opera, the young couple attempted to raise their one surviving child, Icillio (they had previously lost a daughter, Virginia), while Verdi hustled about trying to get a commission.

The impresario of La Scala, Bartolomeo Merelli, impressed with glowing reports about the young man's potential, gave Verdi the break he needed and in 1839 the composer's first opera, Oberto, Conte di San Bonifacio, was premièred at La Scala. This opera also had a libretto by Piazza, but the verses were considerably revised by Temistocle Solera (1815-1878), a political troublemaker and one-time circus strong man, with whom Verdi would collaborate again several times. Unfortunately, Verdi's young son died before opening night.

Plaque in memory of the burial of Margherita Barezzi Verdi (1814-1840), first wife of Giuseppe Verdi, Milan
Plaque in memory of the burial of Margherita Barezzi Verdi (1814-1840), first wife of Giuseppe Verdi, Milan

Despair and Failure

This first opera was successful enough that Merelli gave Verdi a contract for three more operas for La Scala. The first of these for 1840 was to be a buffa piece, Un giorno di regno (King for a Day). Although this opera would feature a libretto by Italy's most popular librettist, Felice Romani, the work would mark the most disastrous failure in Verdi's career. Now we see clearly how the uniqueness of Verdi’s musical genius comes more into perspective. While Verdi was working on his comic opera, his wife Margherita died of encephalitis. This was the daughter of Barezzi, who had given the composer so much. In less than two years Barezzi’s daughter and grandchildren were dead. Verdi was absolutely crushed by this and the feelings of guilt he felt concerning Barezzi caused him deep psychological problems for years to come. Gripped by a depression he could not escape, Verdi steeled himself to finish the opera. Not surprisingly, the première was a fiasco. Unlike a Mozart or a Donizetti, Verdi could not abstract his personal feelings from his art. Un giorno di regno was pulled from the boards after the first and only performance.

To be continued ...

Suggested Video - The life of Verdi

© 2015 John H Rizzo


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)