Guiseppe Verdi (played brilliantly by Ronald Pickup, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) was born in the small village of Le Roncole to a modest family who owned an inn and tavern, but spent the majority of his younger days in Busseto, where the local wealthy merchant, Antonio Barrezzi (Giampiero Albertini) noticed his musical talent at a very young age and became what would amount to his lifelong benefactor, father figure, and dear friend. Verdi eventually married Barrezzi's daughter, Margherita, and the pair had two young children, a boy and a girl, but as Verdi was nursing his fledgling career as a gifted composer, tragedy would strike him again and again.
He and his wife moved to Milan and he began to garner success with his opera Nabucco, and it is there he met talented soprano Guiseppina Strepponi (Carla Fracci), a woman that would become his great love and his second wife, following the untimely death of Margherita. As Verdi's operas brought him more acclaim, he used them as avenues to express his political beliefs and yearnings for an independent Italy, one free from Austrian rule. Politics and becoming involved in the socio-political circle of Countess Carla Maffei, whose salon was renowned for hosting Milan's best and brightest, often seemed to fuel his operas.
Verdi would collaborate again and again with writer Piave who wrote a number of librettos for Verdi's operas, and in later life would work with Boito following the death of Piave. As his fame and wealth grew, Verdi looked back to his old town of Busseto, purchasing property and building a grand estate in Sant'Agata and spending much of his leisure time there. Being a small town, they didn't approve of Guiseppina Strepponi living there with him, but they did live together for some 15 years before finally getting married. War and political turmoil roiled around them, but yet they found happiness with each other.
The pair would eventually adopt their niece named Filomena, who brought them great joy, as they never had children of their own; however, Guiseppina had two illegitimate children prior to her relationship with Verdi, which she sadly abandoned in the care of a relative so that she could be with her beloved Verdi. As the pair aged and Guiseppina's beautiful voice failed, which had forced her to retire from singing at a rather young age, a new soprano would enter Verdi's life, one Teresa Stolz (Eva Christian), who would cause some discontent in Verdi's marriage for a time as rumors swirled, but the women would eventually become lifelong friends.
Verdi died in his early 80's, having written some of Italy's most popular operas, including Rigoletto, La Traviata, Il Trovatore and, much later, Falstaff; he was a national treasure. Upon his death, despite his request for a quiet funeral with no fanfare or music, the streets were crowded with Italians mourning the death of the great Maestro who had throughout the years allowed them to express their social and political feelings through the beauty of his operas.
While I can't say this biopic is for everyone, if you have any interest in Verdi, The Life of Verdi does an amazing and incredibly complete job of outlining the man's entire life, from his birth until his death, as told from the many recovered letters, diaries, and correspondence that still exist to this day. Ronald Pickup and Carla Fracci do amazing jobs as Maestro Verdi and his beloved Peppina and it is quite unique to watch them age some 60 years over the course of the documentary. Despite its age, The Life of Verdi is a really good documentary on a man I previously knew very little about, but whose works are vast, incredible and recognizable, even though I didn't realize I was familiar with some of the tunes.