Italy is known for many things: its mouth-watering food and drink, breathtaking architecture, and warm, Mediterranean climate are just a few that come to mind. Because the country has so much to offer, many visitors can feel overwhelmed trying to discover the “real” Italy. Seeing the country through the eyes of one of its most favourite sons, the opera composer Giuseppe Verdi, is a perfect way to truly understand its culture. Better yet, you can do this while travelling gently down the River Po from Venice to Mantua on a luxury Italian river cruise.
The Life of Verdi
Giuseppe Verdi was born in 1813 near Busetto, just north of Venice. He began studying music at an early age and was playing organ in his local church by the age of nine. Because he was too young to study at the conservatory, he moved to Milan at age 20 and became well-ingrained in the city’s artistic scene. He quickly became recognised for his talent – he completed his first opera, Oberto, conte di San Bonifacio, at the tender age of 25!
The famous composer went on to write 27 more over the course of his lifetime. Many were just as well-known then as they are now, such as Jerusalem, Macbeth, Otello and Falstaff. These made him an Italian cultural icon, and an unparalleled figure of his time. When Verdi died in 1901, his funeral service in Milan was an enormous affair; to this day it remains one of the largest public funeral gatherings in the history of Italy.
The most famous of all of Verdi’s operas is Rigoletto, which is based on a play by Victor Hugo. Set in Mantua in the Renaissance-era court of a conniving, womanizing Duke, Rigoletto tells the story of a court jester and his daughter, who falls under a curse and in love with the Duke. After his daughter becomes another one of the Duke’s victims, the Rigoletto – the jester – plots revenge. The work is Verdi’s masterpiece and when it was premiered in 1851, it immediately gained recognition as a crowd favourite, winning him widespread fame and forever making him a cultural giant. In addition to the opera touring widely, his acclaim became so widespread that supporters of the unification of Italy used the slogan “Viva VERDI” throughout the 1860s.
Experience Italy through Verdi’s Eyes
Although he died more than 100 years ago, Verdi’s spirit lives on. The perfect way to see first-hand iconic cultural landmarks from the water – like the Teatro La Fenice in Venice where Rigoletto was first performed – is on an Italian river cruise. Verdi himself lived almost his entire life in the countryside between Venice and Mantua and was well-known for taking long walks along the bank of the River Po. Sitting on the deck of an Italian river cruiseis an ideal way to witness Verdi’s Italy for yourself.
Paul Newman is the Marketing and E-Systems Executive for European Waterways, the UK's most respected provider of all-inclusive, luxury river cruises and barge holidays throughout Europe. If you're looking for the most exciting Italian river cruise itineraries European Waterways is an ideal choice. Part of a team of experienced barging aficionados, Paul is first in line to endorse the perks of a slow-paced barge cruise to anyone looking for a unique holiday experience.