Very Verdi

One hundred years after the maestro’s death, the Italian composer reigns, very operatically, in the hearts of music lovers everywhere

New York's Metropolitan Opera opened its new season in September with a performance of acts from three operas by Giuseppe Verdi—an American tribute coinciding with the international observance of the 100th anniversary of the Italian maestro's death. Opera lovers also thronged to free Verdi concerts this summer in Central Park, where the New York Grand Opera concluded its ambitious program of performing all 28 of Verdi's operas over the past eight years.

And in Verdi's Italy, centenary celebrations were held throughout 2001, especially in Milan, at La Scala, where the opera house dedicated its entire season to Verdi.

Probably the most popular composer in the history of opera, the genius who brought us some of the most beloved works in the operatic canon was a shy, complex figure who liked to call himself simply a "peasant." A child prodigy who, as a young man, was denied entry to the exalted reaches of Milan's music conservatory, Verdi succeeded purely on the basis of his extraordinary gifts.

After his first success, Nabucco, premiered in 1842, Verdi went from strength to strength. Beginning in 1851, he produced his three stellar hits—Rigoletto, La Traviata and Il Trovatore—known as the Verdi Trilogy—in only two years. (Another towering achievement, Aida, was a later creation, opening in 1871.)

When an idea came on, it came on strong, as a complete work. He rarely used a piano to create. "My difficulty," he once explained, "is to write down the musical thought quickly enough to capture it in its totality."

In the summer of 2001, an audience of 12,000 convened in Verona's first-century A.D. amphitheater, bearing candles in homage to the composer. They paid tribute to the sentiment expressed by Italian Minister of Culture Giovanna Melandri during this centenary year: "Italy without Verdi," she averred, "would be like England without Shakespeare."

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