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Giuseppina Strepponi - The Real Traviata June 17 2022

Giuseppina Strepponi (1815–1897) was a famous nineteenth-century Italian operatic soprano. The eldest daughter of the famous Italian composer and conductor, Feliciano Strepponi and the second wife of Giuseppe Verdi (1813–1901) . Giuseppina’s performances in a number of Verdi’s early such as Oberto (1839) and Nabucco (1842) helped launch the composer in Italy and Europe.

HER BIRTH

Feliciano Strepponi, Giuseppina's father, was born in the northern Italian city of Lodi in 1797. Strepponi's older brother Francesco was the maestro di cappella at a church in Lodi and his sister Giovanna taught at the local school. The Strepponis were intellectual as they spoke foreign languages, read and debated all the matters of the day - even politics. Despite working in the church, they were liberal-minded and vivid supporters of Napolean.

Giuseppina Strepponi - Portrait from around late 1850s

Feliciano had come to the public eye in 1812 when he conducted the Te Deum at the Lodi Cathedral celebrating the return of Napoleon. He studied at the Conservatoire in Milan and was often praised by his teachers for his remarkable talent. 

Feliciano fell in love with Rosa Cornalba, a native of Lodi who came from a modest family who was distantly related to the noble Barberini family. After two years of their meeting, the two got married.

[IMAGE] Giuseppina Strepponi - A portrait from around the late 1850s

They had their first child in September 1815. She was named Clelia Maria Josepha but was immediately called 'Giuseppina'. In 1817, their only son Davide Carlo Cristoforo was born, and a year later Maria Teresa was born, followed by Maria Antonietta in 1819. The youngest, Barberina, was born thirteen years after Giuseppina’s birth.

HER UPBRINGING

In 1820, Strepponi received his diploma from the Milan Conservatory, winning a special prize in composition. His first opera, Amore e fedeltà alla prova was premiered at Lodi’s theatre that same year. 

Upon completing his music studies, Strepponi was appointed maestro di cappella at Monza Cathedral. For the next few years, he traveled between Monza, Lodi, Milan, and Turin, while his wife and children remained in Lodi. At home, the person Feliciano got on best with was 'Giuseppina'. He would often play music with her whenever he returned to Lodi.

In 1828, Strepponi was dismissed from his position at Monza Catherdral, partly because of his continuous absences and partly because of his suspected revolutionary tendencies. Fortunately, Feliciano had received an offer from Trieste to serve as the assistant conductor to Maestro Giuseppe Farinelli and to compose two new operas. With his new appointment, the entire Strepponi family moved to Trieste where they lived in a spacious flat facing the Piazza Piccola.

Strepponi was an excellent conductor. Soon, he attracted to the Teatro Grande good performers, new operas, and prominent singers, including Giuditta Pasta, Giulia Grisi and Caroline Ungher. In the meantime, the fifteen-year-old Giuseppina whom Strepponi trained in both piano and singing and was showing considerable promise as a musician. She and her father had decided that her future lay in singing. In November 1830, She stopped her general studies and joined the Conservatoire of Milan, devoting herself entirely to music and singing. 

Strepponi’s opera L’Ullà di Bassora was premiered at La Scala in September 1831 and was a huge success. However, with a family to support and Giuseppina's fees at the conservatory to be paid, Strepponi decided to transform himself into an impresario. He had spent the next few years traveling throughout Italy, leaving his post in Trieste, where his wife and three other children remained.

FELICIANO'S DEATH

Feliciano’s hard work as an impresario had ensured his family a certain level of comfort. However, he had made some bad investments because of which he had lost all his money and found himself in inextricable debt. The stress of these devastating investments added to his brief but frenetic career eventually took a toll on his health. He died of encephalitis in Trieste in 1832 at the age of 38, leaving behind a young wife and five children in a heap of debt.

After his death, The Strepponi family returned to Lodi. They encountered huge financial difficulties. Rosa was forced to sell many of their belongings, and the younger sister Maria had to be taken by an orphanage. Fortunately, Giuseppina's fees at the conservatory continued to be paid through a special grant given to her by the governor.

A CAREER IGNITED

Giuseppina was a model student in the Conservatoire. She distinguished herself in all categories of study and was even awarded a prize in 1834. She graduated two years after her father’s death and made her debut at the Philharmonic Institute of Encouragement Lodi.

Giuseppina Strepponi Autograph Note Signed

Strepponi received an exhilarating reception In Lodi. This meant a great deal to her as she had longed to be accepted in the salons of her native town. Giuseppina’s real and exhilarating début, however, was in a full operatic performance as Adria in Luigi Ricci's Chiara di Rosembergh at the Teatro Orfeo.

[CLICKABLE IMAGE] An autograph note signed by Giuseppina Strepponi about the Italian poet and Verdi's librettist Felice Romani

During this period, Giuseppina was almost accompanied by her agent Camillo Cirelli. Cirelli presented a father figure for the young opera signer. He protected her and helped her progress in the operatic world.

There had never been a real relationship between Giuseppina and her mother. She longed for the intense affection and union of interests that she once shared with her deceased father Feliciano. It was thus natural that the young Strepponi had looked for an older person to have by her side.

A STAR IS BORN

Only three years after her father's death, Giuseppina had her first major success at the Teatro Grande in Trieste singing the title role in Rossini's Matilde di Shabran. This success led to numerous other engagements at major opera houses throughout Italy.

Giuseppina's career was now assured: she had a prodigious memory and enviable technics thanks to the training she had received from her father and the Milan Conservatoire as a soprano lirico-drammatico. 

As Giuseppina's fortunes changed, so did those of her family. She helped her mother, Rosa to move to Milan where she occupied a flat within the great palazzo with her two sisters. Her third sister, Maria Teresa, was left behind in Lodi's orphanage and her brother Davide had now moved to Pavia where he was studying medicine.

At the end of April of 1835, Giuseppina went to Austria to perform the role of Adalgisa in Bellini's Norma and Amina in Bellini's La sonnambula at the Theater am Kärntnertor in Vienna where she was highly praised by both audiences and critics. At only twenty years old, Giuseppina had already acquired a large following and become a star. Despite this, Giuseppina never sang outside Italy after 1835.

Meanwhile, Cirelli set up an agency that toured the Veneto. Giuseppina was part of this agency and the two often traveled together. By this period, it was known by everyone that Cirelli and Giuseppina became lovers. Cirelli, however, was not able to marry her since he already had a wife.

In Spring 1837, Giuseppina went under contract with Alessandro Lanari of Florence, then referred to as the king of impresarios. Lanari was able to secure important engagements for the young opera singer in the following years.

As chief breadwinner for her family, Giuseppina was obliged to keep a relentless performing schedule over these year. She constantly traveled with Lanari’s company to perform alongside other excellent singers such as Moriani, Ronconi and others. Meanwhile, Cirelli continued managing Strepponi’s affairs.

AFFAIRS AND PREGNANCIES

As her career took off, Giuseppina was able to take sentimental liberties outside the bond that she had established with her agent Cirelli. She had multiple love affairs with the gallant tenors with whom she traveled. At that time, fleeting love affairs were the order of the day, even more so than now. There weren’t many other distractions and many people were still illiterate, so opera and seduction were the only means of entertainment open to them.

Although contraceptive methods existed, they were not reliable and it was easy to fall pregnant. Giuseppina’s extramarital affairs had thus resulted in multiple pregnancies and three children.

Giuseppina had to sing through all of these pregnancies because of her contract with Lanari. As a result, she began experiencing some vocal problems and sang badly in some of the operas.

GIUSEPPINA'S CHILDREN

Giuseppina gave birth to her first child and only son, Camillo Luigi Antonio in Turin in January 1838. She, however, did not want to keep him and sent him to be reared by her former maid. After Camillino's birth, Giuseppina only took a few weeks' rest before returning to the stage. 

Giuseppina Strepponi in 1874

She bore her second child, Giuseppina Fausta, in Florence on 9 February 1839, only a few hours after completing a performance at the Teatro Alfieri and before leaving for another performance in Venice.

Cirelli had initially denied the paternity of this girl, believing that Giuseppina had taken another lover during the time she was conceived. However, Giuseppina Fausta was born prematurely which lead Cirelli to become convinced she was his and he eventually accepted paternity.

[IMAGE] A portrait of Giuseppina Strepponi in 1874

Giuseppina placed her in a turnstile for abandoned infants in Florence under the name of "Sinforosa Cirelli". It is believed that Sinforosa never got to meet her mother. She died in a mental hospital in 1925.

Giuseppina’s gave birth to a stillborn girl born in March 1840. Her fourth child was a daughter born in Trieste on 4 November 1841. She was named Adelina Rosa Maria Carolina Strepponi and was left with the Vianellos - a couple who took in illegitimate children -. Adelina died of dysentery on 4 October 1842.

The identity of these children’s father remains unknown till this day. It is believed that Giuseppina, herself wasn’t sure of it. Some, however, speculate that the father of her three first children is Napoleone Moriani.

GIUSEPPE VERDI

Giuseppe Verdi is a talented Italian opera composer. He was born on 10 October 1813 in Le Roncole, near Busseto in a family of moderate means. He was given lessons from his fourth year, and by age 9 he was standing in for his teacher as organist in the village church.

At the age of 10, Verdi's parents arranged for him to join the Ginnasio’s secondary school in Busseto. His musical talent was first discovered by a local Busseto merchant named Antonio Barezzi. Barezzi soon became Verdi's protector. Thanks to his financial support and a pawnshop grant Giuseppe had received, the young musician moved to Milan. He applied for admission at the Milan Conservatory but was rejected due to his age. Barezzi, however, made arrangements for the boy to study music privately under Vincenzo Lavigna.

After obtaining his certification from Lavigna in 1835, Verdi returned to Busseto where he worked for a local school and the Philharmonic Orchestra. In 1836, Verdi married Barezzi's only daughter Margherita. They had their first child, Virginia Maria Luigia on 26 March 1837, and their second child Icilio Romano on 11 July 1838.

THE OPERA OBERTO

In 1838, at the age of 25, Verdi returned to Milan, where he completed his first opera, Oberto. While working on Oberto, the young composer suffered many personal tragedies: His daughter Virginia died on August 12, 1838, and just one year later, his son Icilio Romano fell ill because of pneumonia and died on 22 October 1839.

Giuseppe Verdi signed cabinet photo 1889

With the help of fellow musician Giulio Ricordi, Verdi’s Oberto’s debut production was held at La Scala and by November 1839, it had achieved a successful 13 additional performances. As a result, the La Scala impresario, Bartolomeo Merelli, offered Verdi a contract for three more works.

[CLICKABLE IMAGE] Giuseppe Verdi signed cabinet photo (1889)

Meanwhile, twenty-four-year-old Giuseppina was at the height of her fame. She made her début in La Scala, in 1839, replacing Antonietta Marini-Rainieri, in the role of Leonora in Verdi's Oberto. Strepponi's performance at Oberto was considered one of the strongest aspects of the production and one of the main reasons that the work was well received by the audience.

It is thought that Giuseppina and Verdi first met during the rehearsals of the opera Oberto and some even speculate that they had shared a fling. However, Verdi and Strepponi never admitted to it. The two each often went to great lengths to blot out their past and omit whatever would have caused a scandal in the prevailing nineteenth-century morality.

THE OPERA NABUCCO

Verdi followed Oberto with the comic opera Un Giorno di Regno, in September 1840. Unlike Oberto, this opera was not well-received by both audiences and critics. Making the experience worse for the young musician, his third opera Un Giorno di Regno's debut was painfully overshadowed by the death of his wife, Margherita, on June 18, 1840, at age 26. 

Meanwhile, Strepponi continued to be a popular singer. One of her notable roles during the late 1830s was Adina in Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore, laisa in Saverio Mercadante's Il giuramento, and and Sandrina in Luigi Ricci's Un'avventura di Scaramuccia. She also performed the title role in Donizetti’s Adelia in 1841, which he had written specifically for her.

Strepponi had a great ear for music. she championed Verdi’s works and often talked about his music with admiration. After the failure of his Un Giorno di Regno, she helped persuade the La Scala opera house management to mount an opera named Nabucco that would be composed by Verdi.

Giuseppina performed the role of Abigaille in the premiere of Nabucco in 1842. She reprised this role in several opera houses throughout Italy the following year, including the Teatro Regio di Parma and the Teatro Comunale di Bologna, which considerably aided the work's popularity and helped launch young Verdi in Europe. Some of Strepponi’s other notable roles during the early 1840s included the title role in Bellini's Norma and the title role in Giovanni Pacini's Saffo.

By all accounts, Giuseppe and Giuseppina became lovers at some point during rehearsals of Nabucco. After Nabucco’s smashing success, the two continued to cross paths, but less frequently so.

Giuseppina Strepponi Autograph Note Signed 1897

[CLICKABLE IMAGE] Giuseppina Strepponi Autograph Note Signed (1897)

THE DECLINE

By 1844, Giuseppina’s hectic performing schedule over the last few years had caused the quality of her voice to irreversibly decline. This resulted in a disastrous season in Palermo in 1845, during which she was booed by audiences. She thereafter appeared only sporadically in operas. Most of her last performances were in Verdi’s operas, including performances of Elvira in Ernani and Lucrezia Contarini in I due Foscari.

Giuseppina’s bad health and rapidly declining voice eventually put a halt to her career as a soprano in February 1846. she eventually moved to Paris to teach and only came out of her stage retirement briefly to perform at the Comédie-Italienne. Unfortunately, the opera was not well received.

By then, Verdi had become one of the greatest opera composers in Europe. After finishing the premiere of his opera I masnadieri in England, he returned to Paris, in 1847 to produce Jérusalem.

THE REUNION

Upon meeting in Paris, Giuseppina and Verdi began a romantic relationship and they were soon living together. Giuseppina was very successful in her new teaching endeavors and entirely happy to be stationed in Paris, but for some inexplicable reasons Verdi wanted them to move to his hometown Busseto. 

The two only stayed in Paris for two years before moving to Busseto in July 1849. In May 1850, Giuseppina gave birth to a boy named Giuseppe and in October 1851, a girl named Santa Streppini followed. However, since Giuseppina and Verdi weren’t yet married, they had to abandon them at the Ospidale Maggiore in Cremona.

The people of Busseto regarded the unmarried couple’s cohabitation as scandalous and Giuseppina was shunned in the town and at church. A devout Catholic, Giuseppina yearned for marriage and quietly suffered because of this situation. She wrote in 1853 "God is perhaps punishing me for my sins by ordaining that I shall have no legitimate joys before I die".

Verdi responded furiously to this local censure against Giuseppina. He refused to have anything to do with Busseto and its musical activities, having first repaid with interest the contribution made by the commune to his musical education. It is, however, unclear why he still refused to marry her or to take her with him on his travels.

Giuseppina and Verdi eventually moved outside the town in May 1851. They lived in Verdi's house in Sant'Agata, which is currently known as the Villa Verdi. They were finally wed, on August 29, 1859, in a private and secret ceremony in France.

Verdi with family and friends

A colorized photograph of Verdi with family and friends: Teresa Stolz standing on the left, Giuseppina Strepponi on Verdi´s right, and next to his adopted daughter Maria Carrara Verdi (light blue dress). On the right are publisher Giulio Ricordi and his wife Giuditta Ricordi, over the far right is painter Roberto Metlicovitz

The couple adopted a child and heir in 1868. However, Giuseppina’s devotion was tested in the early 1870s over Verdi's interest in soprano Teresa Stolz and the sordid rumors that had surfaced about them in the press. However, she remained with him for the rest of her life.

During their life, Giuseppina supported her husband in many ways. She gave him good career and financial advice over the years. Friends of the couple even agreed that she had a "civilizing" influence on the composer, who in his earlier days was dictatorial and tactless.

During her last years, Strepponi frequently suffered from stomach problems and arthritis. She eventually became bedridden because of arthritis. On November 14, 1897, she died at the age of 82 from pneumonia. Verdi remained by her side till the very end and was deeply saddened by her departure.

She was initially buried in Cimitero Monumentale in Milan, but when Verdi died in 1901, he left instructions in his will to be buried next to her. So on 26 February 1901, she was reinterred with him at the Casa di Riposo per Musicisti.

SEE ALSO

- Giuseppina Strepponi: Autograph Note Signed about Felipe Romani

Giuseppina Verdi: Autograph Note Signed 1897

Giuseppe Verdi: Signed Cabinet Photograph 1889

- Giuseppe Verdi: Signed Photograph with Francesco Tamagno

- Giuseppe Verdi: Oil Painting on Canvas by Artist

- Giuseppe Verdi: A Life...in Color! (Blog Article)

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