Giuseppe Verdi: Melodrama and Italian Identity

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Course Information
Terms offered: 
Fall, Spring
Language of instruction: 
Contact Hours: 

Interest in Music and Opera

Additional student cost: 



The course will focus on the most popular and most frequently performed of all Italian composers: Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901), recently celebrated worldwide in the bicentenary of his birth. Verdi’s life and output have been strongly connected to the city of Milan, the geographical center of his life, where he studied since he was 19, developed his musical and cultural background, started and ended his career as an opera composer and eventually died. Taking a course on Verdi in Milan is therefore a unique opportunity in order to understand the composer’s creative path and style, while getting to know the institutions and the environment where they developed. The course will explore Verdi’s definition of the fundamental themes of the Romantic era and investigate his relationship with European musical and literary culture of his time. The course will trace the the roots of his art in his artistic ideas and explore the influence Verdi had on the society and mentality of his times, shaping modern Italian identity.

Attendance policy: 

Regular class attendance is mandatory. Students are expected to attend classes each day, including course-related excursions.

IES Abroad Milano allows a maximum of TWO excused absences per semester. Each further absence will automatically result in a penalty of two points off (2/100) on the final grade. SEVEN absences per course (including 2 excused absences) will result in a failing grade for that course. Furthermore, an absence on the date of scheduled tests, presentations or quizzes does not entitle you to recover/reschedule such tests. Failure to attend your midterm and/or final exam will result in an F grade on that paper/exam.

Learning outcomes: 

By the end of the course, students will be able to:

  • Understand the complexity of 19th-century opera as a product of interrelated forces and disciplines: literature, both vocal and instrumental composition, gesture, acting, stage setting, all aimed towards the creation of the grand show of musical drama
  • Understand the peculiarity and interest of  operatic subjects
  • Understand the evolution of Italian belcanto
  • Understand the show-business and its rules through the century
  • Understand the influence of opera on society, culture, politics
  • Develop a clear, comparative grasp of the operatic elements that celebrated the values and/or contributed to the identity of Italy as a new nation: its culture, music, literature, lifestyle
  • Approach to Verdi's masterpieces, analyzing their mechanisms and the reasons of their success and enduring popularity worldwide
Method of presentation: 

Lectures, DVD watching, Field Studies at Opera, Concerts, Exhibitions, CD listening, Score analysis. This course requires attention and critical reaction to the music we will hear, the texts we will read, the DVDs we will watch and the performances we will attend. Therefore, attendance is strictly required. The mandatory readings should be read through the semester in order to gain historical perspective of all the topics covered. Students will have the opportunity to deepen a topic of their choice by filing a research paper. The teacher will introduce students to the existing resources at local libraries, museums and archives. Deadlines for submitting personal works will be announced in class.

Field study: 
  1. Opera in 20th-century Milan: Malipiero Day, Museo del Novecento
  2. La Scala: Concert: Haydn’s The Creation
  3. Through Milan on Verdi’s Footsteps (including Verdi’s Tomb at Casa Verdi)
  4. Opera: Puccini’s Tosca at Teatro Donizetti in Bergamo
  5. La Scala Theatre Museum
  6. Verdi’s Requiem, Auditorium di Milano
  7. Guest Lecture: Ronald Martinez on Dante, a Verdi’s favorite
  8. Italian opera concert, Auditorium di Milano
Required work and form of assessment: 
  • Research Paper - 20%
  • Participation - 20%
  • Midterm - 20%
  • Final Exams- 40%




Verdi, Shakespeare and European Romantic culture


Verdi’s career in Italy and Abroad


Verdi and his country: the making of a Nation


Being an Opera composer at Verdi’s time


Getting an opera out of an idea


The Ugly as new, romantic Beauty: Verdi’s ideas on arts


Verdi’s world and characters


How does a Verdi’s opera work


The first great success: Nabucco as monumental Opera 


Ten years of experimental opera: from Ernani to Macbeth and beyond


The Romantic Trilogy: Rigoletto, Il Trovatore, La Traviata


A new operatic project: from Les Vêpres Siciliennes to Un ballo in maschera


Rethinking grand opéra: from La forza del destino to Don Carlos to Aida


Shakespeare, once more: Otello and Falstaff


Verdi out of the theatre: the Requiem and the chamber music


Verdi’s myth


Required readings: 
  • Julian Budden, Verdi. Oxford University Press, 2008.
  • Scott L. Balthazar (Ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Verdi. Cambridge University Press, 2004 (selected essays).
  • Roger Parker (ed.), The Oxford Illustrated History Of Opera, Oxford University Press.
  • Roger Parker, Verdi politico: a wounded cliché regroups, «Journal of Modern Italian Studies», XVII, 4, 2012, 427-436.
  • Gavin Williams, Orating Verdi: Death and the Media c. 1901, «Cambridge Opera Journal», XXIII, 3, 2011, p. 119-143.
  • Susan Rutherford: From Byron’s The Corsair to Verdi’s Il corsaro, «Ninenteenth-Century Music Review», VII, 2, 2010, p. 35-61.
  • Francesca Vella, Verdi’s Don Carlo as Monument, «Cambridge Opera Journal», XXV, 1, 2013, p. 75-103.
  • Blanche Roosevelt, Verdi Milan and Othello, Cambridge University Press, 2013.
  • Denise Gallo: “Repatriating” Falstaff: Boito, Verdi and Shakespeare (in Translation), «Ninenteenth-Century Music Review», VII, 2, 2010, p. 7-34.
  • Librettos of selected operas by Verdi.