Operas delight us with the complexity of characters, their actions, motives, qualities, and emotions. Love, kindness, and devotion intersperse with revenge, slyness, and despair. In short – opera is life, and our life is an opera.

And what was the life of those who wrote the most famous opera arias? We’ll try to answer, presenting you with four of the greatest European opera composers.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – a child prodigy

His full name is Johann Chrysostom Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Born in 1756 in Salzburg (Austria) to Leopold – a German composer and violinist – and Anna Maria, he was one of seven children, from whom only two survived infancy.

As a four-year-old boy, Mozart already played (and we don’t mean playing with) harpsichord, and at the age of six, he performed at the Viennese imperial court and noble houses. In 1763, when he was seven, the whole family embarked on a three-year concert tour to western Europe, where Mozart, often accompanied by his sister Maria Anna, played at the most renowned musical centres. During that time, and under the influence of Johann Christian Bach (J.S. Bach’s son), he wrote his first symphonies.

Still being a teenager, Mozart was considered to be an equally mature composer as his older and well-established fellow professionals. His genius was reflected in every music genre he undertook. Although he stood out, he struggled with finding a suitable job. When he was fourteen, his father made him go to Italy to write and perform operas, and later to Paris – unfortunately without finding a stable position.

Back in Vienna, in his last decade of life (he died early at the age of thirty-five) Mozart created the most developed, elaborated, appraised, and skilful instrumental works such as six symphonies, the Quartets, and his remarkable operas, deemed the greatest Italian operas of all time:

  • Le nozze di Figaro (The marriage of Figaro) in 1786,
  • Don Giovanni in 1787,
  • Cosi fan tutte in 1790.

In the year of his death, he wrote a German opera – The Magic Flute.

Georg Friedrich Händel – The High Baroque genius

This German-British composer was born in 1685 in Halle. Here, in the heart of the state of Saxony-Anhalt, he received his education, but his composer career set off in Hamburg and then directed to Italy. In 1712, he moved to London, where he settled down and became a naturalised British subject. 

In Italy, Händel met renowned composers, such as Corelli and Scarlatti. Premiered in Florence, his first Italian opera, Rodrigo, turned out to be a huge success. His quickly attained musical maturity is reflected in Dixit Dominus – a psalm he wrote in 1707. He excelled in Italian sacral music.

After a short staying in Hanover and working as Kappelmeister to German prince George, he went to England and presented his opera, Rinaldo. Soon he decided to choose Great Britain over Germany.

Händel’s greatest composition is Messiah – an English oratorio from 1741. Its chorus is one of the most famous Baroque choral pieces. Other remarkable works of the German artist include amazing oratorios, operas, organ concertos, cantatas, hymns and anthems, orchestral works, and many more – he’s been one of the most prolific composers of all time.

Giuseppe Verdi – Italian opera maestro from the 19th century

Verdi was born in 1813 in a small Italian village, Le Roncole, but he went to study in Milan. His early operas were marked by the support towards the political and social Risorgimento movement, whose objective was to consolidate Italian states and create one united kingdom.

He received his first music lessons from a local pianist in Busetto – the city his family moved to when he was a kid. Then he got involved in the Philharmonic, where – thanks to his enormous talent – he quickly became a leader musician. Verdi also had a patron, Antonio Barezzi, who later became his father-in-law. Berezzi enabled him to get in touch with La Scala and to become a private pupil of Vicenzo Lavigna, the maestro concertatore at this famous Milanese opera house.

Verdi’s operas are extremely popular worldwide, especially the three written in his “middle period” – Rigoletto, La traviata, and Il trovatore. He’s claimed to be "one of the greatest and most popular opera composers of the nineteenth century" (1910 edition of Grove's Dictionary). Other Verdi’s operatic masterpieces include Nabucco, I Lombardi, Don Carlos, Aida, and Requiem.

In his work, Verdi introduced novelties detached from the predominant structure of Italian opera. He chose to integrate scenes and unify acts rather than joining open-ended scenes with inserted arias, duets, and trios. He composed even in his very last years – Otello and Falstaff were written when he was resp. 74 and 80.

If you want to get familiar with Verdi’s exceptional flair for opera arias and quartets, come to our opera concert in Rome. You’ll hear such compositions as:

  • Va, pensiero from Nabucco,
  • Libiamo ne’ lieti calici from La Traviata,
  • La donna è mobile from Rigoletto,
  • Celeste Aida from Aida.

Georges Bizet – a neglected talent 

After mentioning an Austrian, German, and Italian great opera composer, it’s time for the French author of – according to many opera lovers – the greatest and certainly the most popular opera of all time, Carmen – Georges Bizet.

Born in 1838, Bizet was a composer of the Romantic era. He was an outstanding student at the Paris Conservatory (a college of music and dance), won many prestigious prizes, and excelled as a pianist, but hardly ever played in public. After finishing his scholarship in Rome, he returned to Paris, where he faced ignorance as a newcomer.

Making a living mainly by arranging and transcribing the music of others, he still tried to merit with his own work. However, his two operas – Les pêcheurs de perles and La jolie fille de Perth – didn’t bring him success.

His genius was to be recognized, unfortunately, after his death. His final opera, Carmen, premiered in 1875. He died of a heart attack three months later, convinced that the composition would be a failure. He couldn’t have been more wrong. The controversial story of an ingenuous soldier, Dan José, and a seductive gypsy, Carmen, achieved spectacular international fame and appraisal – and it’s lasted to this very day.