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Saturday, 27 January, 2001, 04:49 GMT
Giuseppe Verdi: Symbol of Italy
Verdi's Falstaff
Verdi's Falstaff reopened the Royal Opera House in 1999
On the 100th anniversary of Giuseppe Verdi's death BBC News Online pays tribute to the composer of La Traviata, Falstaff and Aida.

The composer Giuseppe Verdi's music has been borrowed to sell pasta and to energise crowds waiting for football games to kick off.

His opera Aida has been performed with a cast of 3,000.

But the story of Verdi is not that of another great musician hijacked by commerce.

Italy without Verdi would be like England without Shakespeare

Giovanna Melandri, Italian culture minister
In the world of opera he is rivalled only by Mozart and Wagner and composers from Copeland to Poulenc have hailed him as an inspiration.

To Italians he is a beloved symbol of political unity.

Italy's culture minister Giovanna Melandri said earlier this month: "Opera and above all Verdi are part of our very national identity.

"Italy without Verdi would be like England without Shakespeare."

It would have no doubt pleased Verdi, who promoted his own work brilliantly, that his music flourishes in situations from the sublime to the commercial.

Milan music publisher Gabrielle Dotto said: "He was not only a superb musician, he was an excellent businessman and in today's sense, he would have been a superb marketing man.

Luciano Pavarotti
Pavarotti plays Radames in the Met centenary production of Aida
"He knew how to fashion his own history."

Verdi was born in 1813 to a rural family of small landowners and tradesmen.

By 1836 his composing career was well under way and he had married his childhood sweetheart, Margherita Barezzi.

Verdi's first opera, Oberto, was a great success at the famous La Scala opera house in Milan in November 1839.

But tragedy struck as, in the span of a year, his son, his daughter, and his beloved wife all died in turn.

Verdi fell into a depression and turned away from music.

Man of the people

But the director of La Scala persuaded him to return to composing and the result was Nabucco.

Though the opera emphasises romance rather than liberation, the rousing chorus in praise of liberty sung by Jewish slaves became a symbol for those fighting for national unity at the time.

It is still the song many Italians want to be their national anthem.

This updated Aida was performed in New York last year
Italians see Verdi as not just the embodiment of Italian opera, but of the national soul.

Although he professed to hate politics, Verdi made extensive use of political elements in his music.

"Verdi is one of us," said politician Umberto Bossi.

Bossi sees the composer as "a man of the common people, no intellectual but a man full of love and charm".

He was a countryman and you'd see him going off to tend the pumpkins - that was the greatness of Verdi

Pierluigi Petrobelli, director, Institute of Verdi Studies

This Italian man of the people was inspired by Britain's artistic counterpart William Shakespeare.

Shakespeare's plays had been published in Italian in 1838 and Verdi used them as inspiration for his operas Falstaff, Macbeth and Otello.

Pierluigi Petrobelli, of the Institute of Verdi Studies in Parma, said: "Certainly Shakespeare made a strong impression on him - because he was anti-classical.

"Shakespeare's texts set to music were in strong contrast to what had been presented before with Rossini, Bellini or even Donizetti."

Bryn Terfel
Bryn Terfel played Falstaff in the ROH production
Verdi was a huge success by this time and had bought a large town house near Busseto in Northern Italy.

But the town did not approve of his living with soprano Guiseppino Strepponi, who he did not marry till much later.

Petrobelli said: "He was both hated and loved in Busseto. Yes, he was a great man, but he didn't expect people to call him 'maestro'.

"He was a countryman and you'd see him going off to tend the pumpkins, the cucumbers, that was the greatness of Verdi."

In 1850-51 he completed Rigoletto, followed by Il Trovatore and one of his best-loved works, La Traviata.


But Verdi did not only write opera. One of his greatest musical triumphs is his Requiem mass, which he composed for the first anniversary of the death of poet Alessandro Manzoni.

Verdi wrote when he heard of his death: "I am profoundly saddened by the death of our Great Man!

"If men worshipped men I would have knelt before him."

These sentiments echo much of what is said about Verdi too.

A production of Aida by the pyramids at Giza, Egypt
Tribute performances, exhibitions, conferences and lectures are being held all over Italy and the world as music lovers pay tribute to the composer for the anniversary.

In Milan, straw will be scattered on the street outside the Grand Hotel to recreate the atmosphere that surrounded Verdi when, aged 87, he lay dying in the hotel.

One hundred years ago, the straw served to mute the clatter of passing carriages.

He is buried under the great vault of the chapel of a rest home he founded for poor musicians in Milan.

His epitaph is: "He wept and loved for everyone."

Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus
Excerpt from Nabucco
Jose Cura and Solisti Cantori
Excerpt from La Traviata
See also:

04 Nov 00 | Entertainment
Shanghai stages biggest Aida
26 Nov 99 | Entertainment
Bryn's House party
14 Oct 98 | Middle East
Aida comes home
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