History Podcasts

History of Verdi - History

History of Verdi - History


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Verdi (SP-979)—a wooden motorboat built in 1909 at Morris Heights, N.Y., by the Charles L. Seabury Co. and the Gas Engine and Power Co.—was acquired by the Navy from Walter J. Green, of Utica, N.Y., on 30 June 1917. Homeported during her civilian service at Clayton, N.Y., on the St. Lawrence River, Verdi was assigned section patrol duties with the 9th Naval District. She served in the Great Lakes through the armistice of 11 November 1918, which ended World War I, and was returned to her owner on 4 December 1918.

The Story of Verdi's Opera Don Carlo

France and Spain are at war. Don Carlo, son of the King of Spain, but not heir to the throne, has secretly come to France. By happenstance, he meets with Elisabeth, his betrothed and whom he has never met, and the two instantly fall in love. They become even happier when they reveal their identities. In the distance, a cannon sounds signaling the end of the war. Moments later, Elisabeth is told by Thibault that as a condition of the peace treaty, her father has given her hand in marriage to Don Carlo's father instead. The news is confirmed by Lerma, the Spanish ambassador. Elisabeth is torn but decides to agree to the condition to uphold the peace treaty. She leaves behind Don Carlo who is inconsolable.

Don Carlo, ACT 2

Back in Spain, Don Carlo miserably sits inside the cloisters of St. Just, where his grandfather once joined and became a friar many years prior to escape the duties and responsibilities of the throne, contemplating the loss of his true love and her marriage to his father. He is approached by a man named Rodrigo. He is the Marquis of Posa, who has come from Flanders seeking means to put an end to their Spanish oppression. Don Carlo tells him that he is in love with his step-mother. Rodrigo urges him to forget about her and join his cause and fight for Flanders independence. Don Carlo agrees, and the two men swear friendship and allegiance.

In a garden outside of the church, Princess Eboli sings a love song about a Moorish king to her court. When Queen Elisabeth arrives, Rodrigo delivers a missive from France along with a secret note to her from Don Carlo. After a bit of nudging from Rodrigo, she finally agrees to meet with Don Carlo alone. Don Carlo asks Elisabeth to convince his father to allow him to go to Flanders, and she quickly agrees. Finding her quick dismissal of him shocking, he confesses his love for her once more. She tells him she is not in a position to return his love. Don Carlo runs away brokenhearted. Moments later, King Filippo, Don Carlo's father, finds his Queen unattended. He fires her lady-in-waiting, and Elisabeth mourns her departure. The King is approached by Rodrigo, who asks for him to ease up on the Spanish oppression. Though the King favors his character, he says that it is not possible. The King, then, warns him that they will be keeping an eye on him. When Rodrigo exits the garden, the King tells his aid that they will also keep an eye on the Queen.

Don Carlo, ACT 3

Elisabeth does not want to attend a coronation later that evening, so she instructs Princess Eboli to don a mask and attend the party dressed as her. She agrees to do so and attends the party without a hitch. Don Carlo, who has received a letter requesting a rendezvous with him in the garden, shows up at the party. The note is from Eboli, but Don Carlo thinks it is from Elisabeth. He meets the disguised woman and confesses his love to her. Suspecting something is amiss, Eboli removes her mask, and Don Carlo is horrified that his secret has been revealed. Rodrigo arrives just as Eboli threatens to tell the King. Rodrigo intimidates her, and she runs away. Fearful of Don Carlo's future, Rodrigo takes any incriminating papers from Don Carlo.

Outside the church, a large crowd has gathered to watch a parade of heretics being lead to their executions. Trailing the parade is Don Carlo and a group of Flemish deputies. When they plead for the heretics clemency, King Filippo denies them, and Don Carlo angrily draws his sword against his father. Rodrigo quickly disarms his friend even though the King's men dare not attack him. The King is impressed with Rodrigo and promotes him to duke. As the pyres are lit and the heretics prepared for death, the heavens open and an angelic voice announces that their souls will find peace.

Don Carlo, ACT 4

King Filippo sits alone in his bedroom contemplating his wife's seeming indifference towards him. He calls in his Grand Inquisitor who has been keeping watch over Rodrigo and Elisabeth. He tells the King that Rodrigo and Don Carlo should be executed. When the Inquisitor leaves, Elisabeth runs into the room screaming that her jewelry box has been stolen. The King retrieves the box having discovered it earlier. When he pries open the box, a small portrait of Don Carlo falls out of it onto the floor. He accuses his wife of adultery. When she faints and collapses, Princess Eboli confesses to stealing the jewelry box and admits the picture belongs to her. She also admits to having once been the King's mistress. Filled with regret, the King apologizes to his wife. Eboli apologies profusely, but the Queen feels betrayed and sends her away to a convent.

Rodrigo visits Don Carlo in his prison cell and tells him that he has allowed Don Carlo's incriminating papers to be found. However, Rodrigo has taken the blame for the insurrection. When he takes his leave, he is shot and killed by the inquisitor's men. King Filippo pardons his son just as an angry mob storms the prison. Luckily for the King, the Inquisitor and his men can safely escort the King away.

Don Carlo, ACT 5

In the cloisters of St. Just, Elisabeth has decided to help Don Carlo go to Flanders. Don Carlos enters, and the two share a final goodbye and pray that they shall meet again in heaven. They are interrupted by King Filippo, and the Inquisitor, who announce that there will be a double sacrifice made that night. Don Carlo draws his sword against the Inquisitor's men. Before the fight can go any further, the voice of Don Carlo's grandfather is heard. Suddenly, to everyone's horror, the tomb of his grandfather opens and a hand grabs Don Carlo's shoulder, pulling him back into the tomb.

Background and context

Dumas, in his novel of 1848 and the play based on it, recalls an actual “lady of pleasure” (the scandalous Marie Duplessis) whom he had known and adored. Like Violetta in the opera, Duplessis had conquered Parisian society with her wit, charm, and beauty, but her reign was a brief one—she died of tuberculosis in 1847 at age 23. Verdi attended the play in 1852 in Paris, where he was spending the winter. The composer had already read the novel and had begun to conceive of an opera based on the story. La Fenice had been clamouring for a new work although the theatre would supply funding and performers, Verdi was afraid its singers would not do the opera justice. He was right. Of the primary cast members, only the soprano who played Violetta (Fanny Salvini-Donatelli) was adequate as a singer. Unfortunately, she was 38 years old and overweight. When La traviata premiered, audience members openly mocked the idea that she could possibly be a desirable courtesan, let alone one wasting away from tuberculosis. Verdi called the night a fiasco, yet he did not allow himself to be overly distressed, writing to a conductor friend, “I do not think that the last word on La traviata was uttered last night.” Within two months he was vindicated: the revival that opened May 6, 1853, at the Teatro San Benedetto in Venice, with more suitable singers and a few small revisions in the score, was an unqualified success.

La traviata’s subject and setting were novel for opera in the middle of the 19th century. The scale is intimate and bourgeois, not heroic or noble. The heroine is a fallen woman who earns redemption through sacrifice—a notion that was somewhat risqué at the time—although not forbidden by censors. Verdi was adamant that the opera be set in the present day (that is, the 1850s), with modern costumes. Opera companies would not comply, insisting on setting the story in the early 18th century. (The first performance set in the period Verdi specified took place in 1906, after Verdi’s death and well after the setting could be called contemporary.)

More than other Italian opera composers of the time, Verdi unified the music and underscored the drama through the use of techniques such as repeated phrases (Violetta’s “Ah, fors’è lui” echoes Alfredo’s declaration of love and continues as a love theme), instrumentation (high violins underscore Violetta’s character from the overture onward), coloratura ornamentation that reflects Violetta’s agitation (thus justifying what otherwise can seem empty virtuosity), and musical continuity (through blurring the line between recitative and aria).

During Verdi’s lifetime La traviata was one of the most frequently performed of all operas, and it has continued to be through to the present. The story feels immediate, and the melodies are beautiful. Practically speaking, the demands on orchestra and singers do not overburden the resources of even modest opera companies.

Scene 1. The Duke of Mantua’s palace.

At a splendid ball in his palace, the Duke of Mantua boasts to his retainer, Borsa, of his plan to finish his conquest of a young woman who has been at church every Sunday for three months. He has discovered where she lives, and every night he sees a mysterious man enter her house. The Duke has not revealed his identity to the woman. Borsa, meanwhile, admires the ladies at the ball, and the Duke is particularly taken with the wife of Count Ceprano. Borsa warns that if Ceprano were to find out, he might tell the young woman. But the Duke does not care all women are the same to him (“Questa o quella”). As Countess Ceprano passes by, the Duke flirts with her and escorts her out of the room. Rigoletto, the Duke’s hunchbacked jester, mocks the sullen Count Ceprano, who follows them out in a huff. Rigoletto joins them, laughing.

Marullo, another of the Duke’s retainers, comes in with big news: Rigoletto has a mistress! The courtiers suppress their laughter as Rigoletto arrives with the Duke, who is whispering to the jester that Ceprano is a pest and his wife an angel. Rigoletto advises the Duke, in a voice loud enough for the Count to hear, to carry the Countess off and imprison or execute her husband. Ceprano is enraged. The Duke warns Rigoletto that he has gone too far, but Rigoletto does not care. The courtiers and ladies enjoy the scene immensely. The merriment is interrupted by the sudden entrance of Count Monterone, who threatens the Duke. Rigoletto mocks him for complaining that the Duke has seduced his daughter. Outraged, Monterone swears vengeance. The Duke orders his arrest. As he is led away, Monterone places a curse upon the Duke and Rigoletto for laughing at a father’s grief. Rigoletto is visibly shaken.

Scene 2. An alley outside Rigoletto’s house.

Rigoletto is still upset by Monterone’s curse. A strange man, the sinister Sparafucile, accosts him. He reveals his sword and offers to free Rigoletto from the man who cursed him. The killer’s attractive sister, Maddalena, will lure the victim to their house, where Sparafucile will quietly execute him. Rigoletto declines the offer, and Sparafucile says that he can be found in the alley every night. After dismissing him, Rigoletto reflects that they are alike: both destroy others—Rigoletto with his wit and acerbic tongue, Sparafucile with his sword (“Pari siamo”). He reflects again on Monterone’s curse and rails at Nature for making him deformed and wicked, with no choice but to be a buffoon and no solace but in mocking the Duke’s courtiers.

Rigoletto shakes off his fears and enters the courtyard of his house, where Gilda, his young daughter, throws herself into his arms. Noticing that her father is troubled, she begs him to tell her what is wrong. Gilda, not knowing her own history, wants him to tell her who he really is and who her mother was. Rigoletto, sighing, describes his lost love, a woman who loved him despite his deformity and poverty. Sadly, she died, leaving Gilda to console him. He will not tell her anything else, only that she is his whole life. Gilda accepts his reticence and asks permission to go out into the city, which she has yet to explore. Rigoletto adamantly refuses and pointedly asks if she has already gone out. She says no, and he warns her to be careful. Secretly, he fears that the courtiers will find Gilda and dishonour her. He calls for her nurse, Giovanna, and asks whether anyone has been to the house. She says no, and Rigoletto urges her to keep a close watch on Gilda. His daughter proceeds to comfort him with the image of her mother watching over them from heaven.

Rigoletto hears something outside and goes to investigate. The Duke, disguised in humble clothes, slips into the courtyard and hides behind a tree, silencing Giovanna by throwing her a money purse. Rigoletto returns, asking Gilda if anyone has ever followed her to church she says no. He orders Giovanna never to open the door to anyone, especially the Duke. The Duke, in his hiding place, is stunned to discover that the woman he desires is Rigoletto’s daughter. Father and daughter embrace, and Rigoletto leaves.

Gilda is stricken by remorse, for she failed to tell her father about the young man who has followed her to church. When Giovanna suggests that he might be a great gentleman, Gilda replies that she would prefer that he be poor she confesses that in her fantasies she tells him that she loves him.

The Duke emerges from hiding and throws himself at Gilda’s feet, repeating that he loves her. He motions for Giovanna to leave. Gilda, frightened, calls for her nurse, but the Duke presses his suit. She asks him to leave, but his flowery words of love have captured her. She admits that she loves him and asks his name. (Meanwhile, outside, Borsa and Ceprano have found the home of the despised Rigoletto.) The Duke tells Gilda that he is a poor student named Gualtier Maldé. Giovanna comes in to say that she has heard footsteps outside. Fearing that Rigoletto has returned, Gilda urges the Duke to leave. They swear undying love before Giovanna leads him out.

Alone, Gilda reflects on her lover’s name and swears to love him forever (“Caro nome”). Out in the street, however, Ceprano, Borsa, Marullo, and other courtiers, armed and masked, are spying on her. They are stunned by the beauty of the woman they believe to be Rigoletto’s lover. Meanwhile, Rigoletto blunders onto the scene. It is too dark for him to see who is there. Marullo identifies himself and tells him that they are planning to abduct Countess Ceprano for the Duke. To prove it, Marullo hands Rigoletto the key to Ceprano’s nearby palace. Rigoletto likes the plan and asks to be masked like the others. Marullo obliges—with a blindfold—and tells Rigoletto that he is to hold the ladder. The courtiers clamber up the ladder and into Rigoletto’s house. They drag Gilda screaming out of the house she drops a scarf as they take her off. Rigoletto, still holding the ladder, at first enjoys the joke but then tears off the blindfold. Seeing Gilda’s scarf, he cries out, “Ah! The curse!”

A Brief History of Tuning

The first explicit reference to the tuning of middle C at 256 oscillations per second was probably made by a contemporary of J.S. Bach. It was at that time that precise technical methods developed making it possible to determine the exact pitch of a given note in cycles per second. The first person said to have accomplished this was Joseph Sauveur (1653-1716), called the father of musical acoustics. He measured the pitches of organ pipes and vibrating strings, and defined the ``ut'' (nowadays known as ``do'') of the musical scale at 256 cycles per second.

J.S. Bach, as is well known, was an expert in organ construction and master of acoustics, and was in constant contact with instrument builders, scientists, and musicians all over Europe. So we can safely assume that he was familiar with Sauveur's work. In Beethoven's time, the leading acoustician was Ernst Chladni (1756-1827), whose textbook on the theory of music explicitly defined C=256 as the scientific tuning.Up through the middle of the present century, C=256 was widely recognized as the standard ``scientific'' or ``physical'' pitch (see Figures 13 and 14).

In fact, A=440 has never been the international standard pitch, and the first international conference to impose A=440, which failed, was organized by Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels in 1939. Throughout the seventeeth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries, and in fact into the 1940s, all standard U.S. and European text books on physics, sound, and music took as a given the ``physical pitch'' or ``scientific pitch'' of C=256, including Helmholtz's own texts themselves. Figures 13 and 14 show pages from two standard modern American textbooks, a 1931 standard phonetics text, and the official 1944 physics manual of the U.S. War Department, which begin with the standard definition of musical pitch as C=256.[1]

Regarding composers, all ``early music'' scholars agree that Mozart tuned at precisely at C=256, as his A was in the range of A=427-430. Christopher Hogwood, Roger Norrington, and dozens of other directors of orginal-instrument orchestras' established the practice during the 1980's of recording all Mozart works at precisely A=430, as well as most of Beethoven's symphonies and piano concertos. Hogwood, Norrington, and others have stated in dozens of interviews and record jackets, the pragmatic reason: German instruments of the period 1780-1827, and even replicas of those instruments, can only be tuned at A=430.

The demand by Czar Alexander, at the 1815 Congress of Vienna, for a ``brighter'' sound, began the demand for a higher pitch from all the crowned heads of Europe. While Cclassical musicians resisted, the Romantic school, led by Friedrich Liszt and his son-in law Richard Wagner, championed the higher pitch during the 1830's and 1840's. Wagner even had the bassoon and many other instruments redesigned so as to be able to play only at A=440 and above. By 1850, chaos reigned, with major European theatres at pitches varying from A=420 to A=460, and even higher at Venice.

In the late 1850's, the French government, under the influence of a committee of composers led by bel canto proponent Giacomo Rossini, called for the first standardization of the pitch in modern times. France consequently passed a law in 1859 establishing A at 435, the lowest of the ranges of pitches (from A=434 to A=456) then in common use in France, and the highest possible pitch at which the soprano register shifts may be maintained close to their disposition at C=256. It was this French A to which Verdi later referred, in objecting to higher tunings then prevalent in Italy, under which circumstance ``we call A in Rome, what is B-flat in Paris.''

Following Verdi's 1884 efforts to insitutitionalize A=432 in Italy, a British-dominated conference in Vienna in 1885 ruled that no such pitch could be standardized. The French, the New York Metropolitan Opera, and many theatres in Europe and the U.S., continued to maintain their A at 432-435, until World War II.

The first effort to institutionalize A=440 in fact was a conference organized by Joseph Goebbels in 1939, who had standardized A=440 as the official German pitch. Professor Robert Dussaut of the National Conservatory of Paris told the French press that: ``By September 1938, the Accoustic Committee of Radio Berlin requested the British Standard Association to organize a congress in London to adopt internationally the German Radio tuning of 440 periods. This congress did in fact occur in London, a very short time before the war, in May-June 1939. No French composer was invited. The decision to raise the pitch was thus taken without consulting French musicians, and against their will.'' The Anglo-Nazi agreement, given the outbreak of war, did not last, so that still A=440 did not stick as a standard pitch.

A second congress in London of the International Standardizing Organization met in October 1953, to again attempt to impose A=440 internationally. This conference passed such a resolution again no Continental musicians who opposed the rise in pitch were invited, and the resolution was widely ignored. Professor Dussaut of the Paris Conservatory wrote that British instrument makers catering to the U.S. jazz trade, which played at A=440 and above, had demanded the higher pitch, ``and it is shocking to me that our orchestra members and singers should thus be dependent upon jazz players.'' A referendum by Professor Dussaut of 23,000 French musicians voted overwhelmingly for A=432.

As recently as 1971, the European Community passed a recommendation calling for the still non-existent international pitch standard. The action was reported in ``The Pitch Game,'' Time magazine, Aug. 9, 1971. The article states that A=440, ``this supposedly international standard, is widely ignored.'' Lower tuning is common, including in Moscow, Time reported, ``where orchestras revel in a plushy, warm tone achieved by a larynx-relaxing A=435 cycles,'' and at a performance in London ``a few years ago,'' British church organs were still tuned a half-tone lower, about A=425, than the visiting Vienna Philharmonic, at A=450.

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Originally known as O'Neils Crossing, for the man who built a bridge there in 1860. [2]

Name Edit

The town of Verdi was named after Giuseppe Verdi by Charles Crocker, founder of the Central Pacific Railroad, when he pulled a slip of paper from a hat and read the name of the Italian opera composer in 1868. [3] The name is pronounced by the local population as VUR-dye.

1870 train robbery Edit

On the 4th of November 1870, five men robbed a train travelling from San Francisco to Virginia City near Verdi after blocking the track. The train was carrying approximately $60,000 of gold and silver, and the robbers were able to get away with approximately $41,000. [4] [5] The same train was robbed for a second time near Pequop, Nevada in Elko County. [6]

The CDP has a total area of 3.5 square miles (9.0 km 2 ), of which 3.4 square miles (8.7 km 2 ) is land and 0.12 square miles (0.3 km 2 ), or 3.35%, is water. [1]

2008 earthquake swarm Edit

In February 2008 an earthquake swarm began, and ended in June 2008. The total number of earthquakes in the census-designated place reached over 5,000 and ranged in magnitude from 0.7 to 4.7 on the Richter magnitude scale.

As of the 2010 census, there were 1,415 people in the CDP. The population density was 416.2 people per square mile (162.6/km 2 ). There were 686 housing units at an average density of 201.8 per square mile (78.9/km 2 ). The racial makeup of the CDP was 95.5% White, 0.2% African American, 0.4% Native American, 0.9% Asian, 0.8% Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander, 0.5% some other race, and 1.6% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 4.6% of the population. [7]

There were 641 households, out of which 20.3% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 57.9% were headed by married couples living together, 4.4% had a female householder with no husband present, and 34.2% were non-families. 26.4% of all households were made up of individuals, and 10.3% were someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.21, and the average family size was 2.66. [7]

In the CDP, the population was spread out, with 14.4% under the age of 18, 6.6% from 18 to 24, 17.3% from 25 to 44, 41.6% from 45 to 64, and 19.9% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 52.2 years. For every 100 females, there were 106.3 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 106.3 males. [7]

For the period 2007–2011, the estimated median annual income for a household in the CDP was $79,324, and the median income for a family was $96,518. Male full-time workers had a median income of $51,464 versus $77,000 for females. The per capita income for the CDP was $87,680. About 3.3% of families and 4.0% of the population were below the poverty line, including 24.0% of those under age 18 and 0% of those age 65 or over. [8]

The Verdi area is served by the Washoe County School District.

Verdi is home to two of the closest Nevada casinos and RV parks to California on I-80: [9] Terrible's Gold Ranch Casino, now known simply as Gold Ranch Casino, at Exit 2 and the Boomtown Reno at Exit 4. Nearby is the closest Cabela's to California.

Over the Years

It was during the early part of this year that a group of Italian – American men, led by George Gaggetti, met in the back of a barber shop at 24th and Vermont Street, to lay out plans for the founding of the club. Mr. Gaggetti presided at the meeting and was elected president. The first initiation was held a few days later, over 50 members were accepted. With increasing membership, the Verdi Club moved from the back room of the barber shop, to a small hall on 24th and Folsom Street.

The club once again outgrew its space and moved to their own building on 26th Street near Alabama.


The Verdi soccer team after one session in the second division, entered the San Francisco Football League first division and became one of the most publicized teams.

The publicity received in newspapers made the club ever more popular, and by this time over 400 had joined. This created a problem. The building was too small. Plans were made to build a suitable club.

In the next few months, after the opening of the new building, over 500 members joined. The soccer team became known as one of the best in California, winning many titles, as did the baseball team. Many of the famous baseball stars got their start in the club, in the Funston League, including Joe DiMaggio. When Joe graduated to the majors, it was the Verdi Club that sponsored the DiMaggio Day at Seals Stadium.

World boxing champions, Young Corbett and Tony Canzoneri, made the Verdi Club their training headquarters as well. Boxing and wrestling exhibitions became monthly attractions.

A women’s rooting section for sporting events, known as the Verdiettes, was also organized. The local dailies ran stories about the activities of this active group, which was one of the most colorful in local sports.

Bowling teams for both sexes were added to the athletic section.

Membership to the club was reopened in order to fill the vacancies created by the war years.

Dinner dances, barn dances, picnics and barbecues were some of the many activities of the club. Meetings were held every Monday evening.

The war years found the club struggling to stay in sports and continue its social activities. It was then that 30 members took over the club and financed it, so that the building would remain in the possession of the club. Offices were built on the mezzanine floors and rented out to various unions and associations.


Member dues were $12 a year until the 1980s. The club expanded to 120 members and all were vested. Membership was closed unless someone passed away.

What Verdi family records will you find?

There are 4,000 census records available for the last name Verdi. Like a window into their day-to-day life, Verdi census records can tell you where and how your ancestors worked, their level of education, veteran status, and more.

There are 1,000 immigration records available for the last name Verdi. Passenger lists are your ticket to knowing when your ancestors arrived in the USA, and how they made the journey - from the ship name to ports of arrival and departure.

There are 1,000 military records available for the last name Verdi. For the veterans among your Verdi ancestors, military collections provide insights into where and when they served, and even physical descriptions.

There are 4,000 census records available for the last name Verdi. Like a window into their day-to-day life, Verdi census records can tell you where and how your ancestors worked, their level of education, veteran status, and more.

There are 1,000 immigration records available for the last name Verdi. Passenger lists are your ticket to knowing when your ancestors arrived in the USA, and how they made the journey - from the ship name to ports of arrival and departure.

There are 1,000 military records available for the last name Verdi. For the veterans among your Verdi ancestors, military collections provide insights into where and when they served, and even physical descriptions.

Verdi’s first opera opens

Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi’s first opera, Oberto, conte di San Bonifacio, debuts in Milan. The premiere was held at La Scala, Italy’s most prestigious theater. Oberto was received favorably, and the next day the composer was commissioned by Bartolomeo Merelli, the impresario at La Scala, to write three more operas. In 1842, after some personal and professional setbacks, the opera Nabucco made Verdi an overnight celebrity. He would go on to compose such classic operas as Rigoletto, Il Trovatore, La Traviata, A, and Otello.

Giuseppe Verdi was born in Le Roncole in the former duchy of Parma in 1813. His father was a tavern keeper and grocer, and Verdi demonstrated a natural gift for music early. He studied music in the neighboring town of Busseto and at the age of 18 was sent to Milan by a sponsor to enter the Milan Conservatory. He was rejected for being overage but stayed in Milan and studied under Vincenzo Lavigna, a composer and former harpsichordist at La Scala. In 1834, Verdi returned to Busseto and became musical director of the Philharmonic Society.

Five years later, Verdi, at 26 years of age, saw his first opera debut at La Scala, the finest theater in Italy. Oberto was followed by Un giorno di regno (King for a Day, 1840), a comic opera that was a critical and commercial failure. Verdi, lamenting its poor reception and also the recent deaths of his wife and two children, decided to give up composing. A year later, however, the director of La Scala convinced him to write an opera based on the story of the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar II. Nabucco (1842) was a sensational success, followed by I Lombardi (The Lombards, 1843) and Ernani (1844).

Opera's History

Inevitably a short history of opera is going to leave a lot out. It’s an art form that has existed for over 400 years and taken on many shapes and forms in a great many different cultures and nations. You will however, frequently hear almost every Western opera categorised to a few periods which are definitely a good place to start.

Below, you'll find the core info on the periods with some key operas put in their chronological place. For a more composer centric timeline check out the composers page. We hope to expand this section enormously, exploring opera's development across Europe and the world, and we've started on that mission with a more expansive history of opera in English.



The first musical theatre work that we might define as an opera today was Jacopo Peri’s Dafne, composed in the late 1590s. Unfortunately little of Peri’s score survives so Claudio Monteverdi’s Orfeo of 1607 takes the crown as the earliest work that you are able to hear. Both these composers were working in Italy, and it was Italian opera that would dominate what is now known as the Baroque period spanning from around 1600 to the 1740s. This form of opera came to the fore in wealthy courts across Europe, royalty frequently patrons of composers, but it rapidly became an art form that appealed to all classes, George Friedrich Handel’s work, for example, wildly popular in England.

Some of the major opera composers of this period were Antonio Vivaldi, Handel and Jean-Baptiste Lully. For much of the 20th Century, Baroque works were seldom performed but there has been something of a popularity boom over the last few decades. The H.I.P (Historically Informed Performance) movement pushing many of these works back into the repertory. Handel’s Giulio Cesare and Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas are two of the most commonly heard works today.


In the mid 1700s Willibald Christoph Gluck took opera in new directions, expanding the structure, harmony and narratives away from the highly formalised forms that had dominated the previous 150 years. He made the orchestra more integral by developing “recitativo accompagnato”, recitative supported by full orchestra rather than just continuo. Opera became steadily more international and varied in style, Italian opera seria mixing with French opera comique and German singspiel amongst many other operatic genres.

Some of the major opera composers were Gluck, Franz Joseph Haydn and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Neither Gluck nor Haydn are all that frequently heard on modern stages but Mozart has an enormous number of works in the standard repertory, Don Giovanni, The Magic Flute and Cosi Fan Tutte three of many.


Romantic opera has dominated operatic stages for the better part of two centuries. Emerging around the turn of the 19th century, Romanticism was the predominant artistic and literary movement until the 1st World War. As a movement it isn’t easily defined but it was born out of the French Revolution and Germany’s Sturm und Drang playing heavily towards strong emotions and a rebellion against the scientific conformity of the enlightenment and latterly the industrial revolution. Opera became steadily bigger and more dramatic, vast choruses and a swelled orchestra, to upwards of 100 players, building towards the immense operatic works of Richard Wagner.

There are too many composers to mention here but Germany was dominated by Wagner, Italy by first Giuseppe Verdi and then Giacomo Puccini and Russia made its first real operatic impact with initially Mikhail Glinka and then Modest Mussorgsky and Pyotr Tchaikovsky amongst many others.

20th Century

More or less for the first time in operatic history, the 20th Century was dominated not by contemporary works but by those of the previous three hundred years. Few were writing new Romantic works but the old ones dominated the modern stage. It hasn’t been all doom and gloom for lovers of new music though, with sophisticated contemporary music making its way onto the operatic stages albeit sporadically and seldom popularly. Composers have become more inventive with the scoring, frequently using fewer orchestral players and creating more intimate dramas relative to the bombast of the Romantic period.

The first half of the century was dominated by the modernists particularly Arnold Schoenberg and Alban Berg who developed atonal and then twelve-tone techniques (lots of dissonance used to chilling dramatic effect). Benjamin Britten and Dmitri Shostakovich came to the fore through the middle years of the 20th Century, Britten in particular arguably the most successful opera composer born after 1900. Minimalism came in full throttle by the 70s, Philip Glass and most recently John Adams the most successful composers in recent times.

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Watch the video: History of Italian opera-Viva Verdi - part 1of 7 (January 2022).