Born on 10 October 1813 at Roncole di Busseto, and deceased in Milan in 1901, Giuseppe Verdi is unquestionably the most illustrious son of the Parma area.
With a natural gift for music and encouraged by his father Carlo, Giuseppe began by playing an old spinet that his parents bought for him. He was later invited to study in Busseto. After his first lessons in the rudiments at Roncole, Giuseppe Verdi was coached by Ferdinando Provesi from Parma. Later on, from 1832 to 1835, he continued his studies in Milan, helped by the Monte di Pietà charity of Busseto who offered him a grant. Important support came from Antonio Barezzi, a well-to-do merchant, promoter and president of the local Philharmonic Society, whose daughter would become the Maestro’s first wife.
After failing the Conservatory entrance exams, Verdi continued his studies under Vincenzo Lavigna, harpsichord master at La Scala. With him he delved deeply into fugue and counterpoint and began going regularly to the theatre. After working for two years as organist-choirmaster at the Collegiate Church of Busseto, and music teacher at the Municipal School of Music, in 1838 he moved to Milan with his family, where his first opera “Oberto, Conte di San Bonifacio” was performed.
The years from 1838 to 1840 were dramatic: Verdi lost his wife and two children, Virginia and Icilio. This tragedy along with the failure of his second opera “King for a Day”, plunged him into a profound state of prostration, to the extent that he considered abandoning the profession of composer. However, in 1842, the manager of La Scala convinced him to set “Nabucco” to music, a first important step in the musician’s career. The leading lady in “Nabucco” was Giuseppina Strepponi, the woman who would become his companion until the end of her life.
Later on, in a period of frenetic production, Verdi was to compose a score of melodramas including: “I Lombardi alla Prima Crociata”, “Ernani”, “I due Foscari”, “Macbeth”, “Alzira”, “I Masnadieri”, “La Traviata”, “Il Trovatore” and “Simon Boccanegra”.
In 1847, in London supervising the staging of “I Masnadieri”, Verdi met the exile, Giuseppe Mazzini. In 1861, Verdi was elected member of the Chamber of Deputies, the first Italian Parliament, a post he held until 1865, while in 1874 he was named Senator of the Kingdom. The year 1861 found him meeting Arrigo Boito, a young poet and musician of the Milanese “Scapigliatura” cultural movement: from those years came “La Forza del Destino”, “Don Carlo”, “The Requiem” and “Aida”.
In the meantime, Verdi and Giuseppina Strepponi had moved to Sant’Agata, a country estate just outside Busseto, and lived a life of leisure there, dividing their time between musical activities and managing their vast property. After Giuseppina’s death in 1897, Verdi moved back to Milan where he passed away in a room at the Grand Hotel et De Milan.
The tombs of Verdi and his wife are in the crypt of the retirement home for musicians in Milan.
Near Parma, in the plain known as the “Bassa Parmense”, it is possible to go on a Verdi trip. The departure point is Roncole, where it is possible to visit the Maestro’s birthplace and the Church of San Michele where Verdi was baptised. The Verdi town par excellence is Busseto, whose Piazza Verdi is overlooked by ancient shops, historical buildings and a thirteenth-century fortress, now the town hall and contanng a theatre dedicated to the illustrious citizen. At Casa Barezzi everything speaks of the composer, and it is possible to relive his education and career there. After his first successes, the Maestro bought Palazzo Orlandi, where he lived with his second wife, the singer Giuseppina Strepponi. In Busseto the visit continues with the recently opened National Giuseppe Verdi Museum which contains exhibits dedicated to the Maestro’s major works.
Another place to visit is Villa Sant’Agata at Villanova sull’Arda (in the province of Piacenza) which was the residence of his later years, and full of precious mementos.