During his long career, Giuseppe Verdi composed twenty-six operas — or twenty-eight, depending what you count as what. The following list is the 28-opera version, with the year of the world premiere in parentheses after each title. I have listed the opera titles in different colors:
Red means I have seen the opera at least once on stage, with costumes, stage sets, lighting, acting, etc.
Green means I have only seen it in concert, with the singers dressed formally and standing in front of the orchestra when it is their turn to sing.
Black means I’ve never seen it at all.
Oberto (1839) premiered at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan when Verdi was twenty-six. It was quite successful, with fourteen performances the first year and seventeen when it was revived a year later. I saw it in a concert performance in Frankfurt in 2016.
Un giorno di regno (1840) was a comic opera that flopped when it opened in Milan, but later had successful runs in Venice and Naples before disappearing from the repertoire.
Nabucco (1842) was Verdi’s first big hit, and made him famous throughout Italy. The Hebrew prisoners’ chorus, Va Pensiero, became the unofficial anthem of the Italian independence movement. I have seen Nabucco several times in Frankfurt, as staged by Bettina Giese in 2001, and once in Mönchengladbach in 2018.
I Lombardi alla prima crociata (1843) = The Lombards on the first crusade.
Ernani (1844) was based on the French play Hernani by Victor Hugo. I’ve never seen the play, which was highly controversial when it was first performed in Paris in 1830, but I once saw the opera in a concert performance in Frankfurt in 2017, conducted by Simone Young and featuring Elza van den Heever as Elvira.
I due Foscari (1844).
Giovanna d’Arco (1845) = Joan of Arc, based on a play by the German dramatist Friedrich Schiller. I saw Giovanna d’Arco in a concert performance in Frankfurt in 2004, featuring Želiko Lučić (then a Frankfurt ensemble member) as Giacomo. Eighteen years later, in 2022, I saw a staged performance at the open-air festival in St Gallen, Switzerland.
Attila (1846) is set in the 5th century, when the Huns invaded Italy. I saw a concert performance of this opera in Frankfurt in 2001, with Martin Thompson as Foresto and Želiko Lučić as Ezio.
Macbeth (1847/1865) is based on the play by William Shakespeare. I have seen it at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan, also in Darmstadt, Passau and Luzern, and several times in Frankfurt, with Želiko Lučić in the title role.
I masnadieri (1847) = The Robbers, based on a play by Friedrich Schiller. The first time I saw I masnadieri on stage was when it premiered at the Frankfurt Opera in 2008. This was a memorable premiere because all the classical orchestras in Germany went out on strike that day (highly unusual in Germany, though it happens in other countries fairly often) so pianists Felice Venanzoni and Karsten Januschke saved the premiere by taking turns as accompanists on a grand piano in the orchestra pit.
Jérusalem (1847) is a French-language version of Verdi’s earlier Italian opera I Lombardi alla prima crociata, but it was very thoroughly revised by Verdi himself. I saw Jérusalem in a concert performance in Frankfurt in 2003, with Želiko Lučić as the Duke of Toulouse.
Il corsaro (1848).
La battaglia di Legnano (1849).
Luisa Miller (1849) is based on the play Kabale und Liebe by Friedrich Schiller. I have seen Luisa Miller in Lyon and several times in Frankfurt, in a staging by Christoph Marthaler that premiered in 1996.
Stiffelio (1850) is an opera that baffled Verdi’s Catholic (or ex-Catholic) fans in Italy, because it deals with the marital problems of a Protestant preacher in some mountainous country. The first Frankfurt staging of Stiffelio was in 2016, with Russell Thomas in the title role. (He also came as our featured guest to Frankfurt OperaTalk while he was here.)
Rigoletto (1851) is the opera that made Verdi famous throughout the world, not only in Italy. It is based on a French play by Victor Hugo, Le roi s’amuse, which was banned by the French authorities after the first performance in 1832. Verdi also had problems with the censors, and he had to change the King of France into the Duke of Mantua before Rigoletto could be performed. (Scroll down a ways in my post The Island of If to see what Victor Hugo thought of all this. And for more on Rigoletto, have a look at my post May you be struck by lightning! about Verdi’s childhood in Busseto.)
Il trovatore (1853) = The Troubadour. In one of my Bregenz posts I have explained the convoluted plot and added lots of (legal!) photos that I took on two consecutive evenings. I have also seen Il trovatore in Kassel, Berlin, Mannheim, Hamburg and Frankfurt, and at the Bastille Opera in Paris with Želiko Lučić as Count Luna.
La traviata (1853) is currently the world’s most popular opera. In the 2018/2019 season it was performed 752 times in 166 productions worldwide, well ahead of Mozart’s Magic Flute, Puccini’s La Bohème and Bizet’s Carmen, according to statistics compiled by operabase.com. I have seen La traviata in Braunschweig, Hamburg, Hannover, Weikersheim, Bonn and Darmstadt, but my favorite production is still the classic Axel Corti staging at the Frankfurt Opera, in which Violetta dies not in her bed but on the floor of the second-class waiting room in the railroad station in Orléans while she is trying to flee from the Nazis. This production premiered in Frankfurt in 1991 and was revived numerous times in the following twenty-two years, before finally being retired in 2013. (Scroll down to Arletty in my post Canal cruise on the Canal Saint-Martin in Paris.)
Les vêpres siciliennes (1855) is in French and was composed for the Paris opera. I have seen it several times in Frankfurt, with Elza van den Heever as Hélène.
Simon Boccanegra (1857/1881) exists in two versions, the first on a libretto by Francesco Maria Piave and the second on a greatly revised libretto by Arrigo Boito. I once saw both versions within a few days of each other, as recounted in one of my Gelsenkirchen posts.
Aroldo (1857) is sometimes listed as a revision of Stiffelio.
Un ballo in maschera (1859) is based on a true incident in which the king of Sweden was assassinated at a masked ball, but the censors wouldn’t allow a king to be killed on stage, so Verdi was forced to move the story to Boston (!) and turn the king into a British colonial administrator. I have seen excellent productions of this opera in Nürnberg and Weimar, but my favorite is still Claus Guth’s Frankfurt staging, in which he portrayed Riccardo as a 21st century politician running for re-election. Oscar, the page boy, was Riccardo’s officious head secretary. Ulrica, the gypsy fortune teller, was a Turkish cleaning lady who used a shaker of white cleansing powder to make a circle on the carpet where she invoked the Devil.
La forza del destino (1862 / 1869) = The Force of Destiny. Here in Frankfurt I went to a concert performance in 2005, with Želiko Lučić as Don Carlo di Vargas. Then in 2019 we had a remarkable staging by Tobias Kratzer, who made it into a comprehensive history of racism in America, with each act set in a different historical period. The cast included Michelle Bradley, Christopher Maltman and Tanja Ariane Baumgartner, all of whom later came and talked with us about it at Frankfurt OperaTalk or the Opern-Gespräche.
Don Carlos (1867/1884) was the fourth of Verdi’s operas to be based on a play by Friedrich Schiller. Over the years Verdi wrote seven different versions of this powerful opera, some in French and some in Italian. I have seen the five-act French version in Strasbourg and a five-act Italian version in Frankfurt and Wiesbaden, also a four-act Italian version in Braunschweig, Dresden and Geneva, as well as a German translation in Dessau. See also: my post Love in the Forest of Fontainebleau, 1559.
Aida (1871) was originally composed for the Cairo opera house, to celebrate the opening of the Suez Canal. I’ve seen it in the huge outdoor Arena of Verona, but also in the quite modest opera house in Ulm, in Wiesbaden, Prague and Berlin, and in a resolutely anti-war staging in the Aalto Theater in Essen.
Otello (1887) is based on the Shakespeare play Othello. The libretto was written for Verdi by Arrigo Boito (1842-1918), who put his own composing career on hold provide Verdi with this brilliant text. I’ve seen Otello in Bonn and several times in Frankfurt.
Falstaff (1893) was Verdi’s last opera, completed when he was eighty years old, but only his second comedy. The libretto was again by Arrigo Boito, and was based on scenes from two Shakespeare plays. I’ve seen Falstaff in Cologne and Wiesbaden and in two different Frankfurt productions, staged by Katrin Hilbe in 2000 and Keith Warner in 2014.
My lead photo in this post is from 2008. I revised the text in 2020.