Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901) was the Shakespeare of opera, the composer of Rigoletto, Il Trovatore, La Traviata, Aida and Otello. The chorus of Hebrew slaves from Nabucco (1842) is regarded in Italy as virtually an alternative national anthem - and the great tragedian rounded off his career fifty years later with a rousing comedy, Falstaff. When Verdi was born, much of northern Italy was under Napoleonic rule, and Verdi grew up dreaming of a time when the peninsula might be governed by Italians. When this was achieved, in 1861, he became a deputy in the first all-Italian parliament. While in his 20s, Verdi lost his two children and then his wife (many Verdi operas feature poignant parent-child relationships). Later, he retired, with his second wife, to his beloved farmlands, refusing for long stretches to return to composition. Verdi died in January 1901, universally mourned as the supreme embodiment of the nation he had helped create.
Daniel Snowman is the author o"f The Gilded Stage: A Social History of Opera."