When nearly 30,000 people lined the streets of Milan in January of 1901 to mourn the funeral procession of Verdi, it must have had the epic quality of one of his famously grand operas. Born in 1813, he had his first success with the 1842 production of Nabucco, which demonstrates Verdi's ample gifts for matching expressive melodies with human tragedy and heroism. These were embraced as theme music for Italy's struggle for national unity, though there is little evidence of political motives within Verdi's music.
The so-called "Galley Years" of the 1840s produced nearly a dozen monumental operas, including Ernani, Macbeth, and Luisa Miller, all with strong, somber stories and vigorous vocal writing. Despite constant trouble from censors, this period ended with his three immense works from 1851 to 1853: Rigoletto, Il Trovatore, and his most intimate, La Traviata. His Aida was produced at the Cairo Opera House in 1871 to mark the opening of the Suez Canal. Because he left stage-writing for other musical pursuits, his last operas came with 1887's Othello and 1893's Falstaff, his only comedy.