Verdi: The Man Revealed, a new biography by John Suchet, is just what its title proclaims: an attempt to uncover the man behind the art that has become such an indelible part of the fabric of Western music and popular culture ... But despite his fame among operaphiles, Verdi is not, perhaps, the household name he once was. Opera, particularly in the United States, all too often gets the short end of the stick in popular media, frequently perceived as elitist or simply hopelessly out of touch with modern audiences (a discussion for another time). And Verdi, the undisputed master of Italian opera, has suffered a measure of obscurity as a result, even as his music continues to permeate the collective subconscious of popular culture in the US ... Clearly Suchet’s biography is clearly written in the same spirit displayed by his employer, with its strong emphasis on accessibility and excitement over dry historical musings about Verdi’s place in the canon of Western music that one might expect of a biography about a 'great artist.'
Verdi’s life was the stuff operas are made of: sex scandals, political turmoil, creative pitfalls, testy divas, and meddling producers, but nothing stopped him from becoming the most famous opera composer in the world and an Italian national hero to boot. That he was able even to rebuild his life after the deaths of his young wife and two infant children is testament to his steely resolve. Music historian John Suchet’s chronicles the composer’s life and storied times in Verdi: The Man Revealed.
The author of Beethoven: The Man Revealed (2013) and Mozart: The Man Revealed (2017) this time 'reveals' Giuseppe Verdi, 'the greatest of all Italian operatic composers and a patriotic advocate of Italian independence.' Like many composers, Verdi the man was a complicated individual. He would often proclaim that he hated composing only to write another opera...He couldn’t wait to leave his small hometown, but he eventually acquired property nearby and built an estate and farm. He advocated for Italian independence and was elected to office, but he never served ... 'He was a man who rejected adulation, had a certain contempt for formality and officialdom, and was truly happy only when he was pursuing one of his two passions: agriculture and music.' ... Music lovers and opera aficionados will applaud Suchet’s skillfully orchestrated biography.
There was no music in young Verdi’s family, but when he began to exhibit musical talent, his parents scraped enough money together to buy him a small keyboard when he was 8. At 10, they sent the 'rather withdrawn, isolated boy' away to be educated. He gave his first public performance at 13, and at 18, thanks to a benefactor, he tried to enter the Milan Conservatory but was rejected ... 'Thirteen operas in under a decade; twenty-seven operas…in a lifetime.' It is a 'phenomenal achievement,' writes the author. 'I can think of no other operatic composer of true stature who can come close to equaling such a record'—not even 'Verdi’s rival Wagner.' Rigoletto, with a ruler as villain, a hunchback jester as hero, 'eclipsed all who had gone before him.' With Il travatore, 'Verdi was creating something entirely new.' After its premiere, an ecstatic, torch-carrying crowd escorted him back to his hotel. Obsessed with Shakespeare, Verdi wrote three operas based on the plays. Otello, writes the author, 'is without doubt one of Verdi’s greatest works.' ... Once again, Suchet hits his mark.