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[Lee In-hyun] Viva, Verdi who united Italians

Every news media outlet around the world has been focusing on COVID-19. Some may wonder if there is any other news besides the virus. As you may have heard, electing the next president of South Korea is less than 150 days away. The election is the most important event in the country politically and socially.

Those who are not usually interested in politics start paying attention to election-related news. I think they have a tendency to pay more attention this time around because they want to change society and live better lives. There is a saying: “One intelligent person can feed the whole village.”

There was a musician in the past who was deeply involved in politics. Surprisingly, he was even elected as a senator.

His name was Giuseppe Verdi.

Verdi was an Italian composer and made a huge impact in opera, his most familiar operas to us today being “La Traviata” and “Aida.” He was an ordinary musician who worked and composed music to make money. He never dreamed of ever running for office.

One day, his good friend Merelli paid him a visit and gave him a script written by Temistocle Solera. Merelli wanted him to make an opera from the script. It had already been rejected by Otto Nicolai, who was a very famous composer. Verdi actually had no choice other than to accept because of a string of failures -- his situation was pretty bad and getting out of control.

Verdi should have succeeded and recovered self-esteem in his work as a musician. Five months after getting the script, he completed “Nabucco.” It was released to the public seven months later.

Obviously, it had only been a year since the visit from Merelli. Verdi did not have much expectation since he lacked confidence and it had already been rejected by Nicolai.

However, it was a great success. Audiences went crazy.

The opera was very patriotic considering how, at that time, Italy was under Austrian rule and the Italians really wanted independence.

The performance stimulated people’s love for their country. He made more operas about patriotism for Italians who wanted to be free. His operas represented the mood and hearts of Italians. Furthermore, his opera promoted the spirit of resistance of people who lived under Austrian rule. Whenever each opera ended, the audience shouted “Viva, Verdi -- cheering for not only the composer, but also referring to “Viva Vittorio Emanuele Re d’Italia,” or “long live Victor Emmanuel King of Italy.”

The approval rating for Verdi was very high, people thought he was the right person to work in government for them. After liberation from Austria, Verdi became a senator by election thanks to the support of the people. During the five years as a representative, he actively participated in politics to not disappoint those who supported him.

Because he was a musician, he was well aware of the situation in music. His work focused around improving the music industry, especially opera. He tried to do his best to get financial support for the field.

Thanks to him, the Italian opera and music field was established successfully with firm ground. After the completion, he finished his term and did not run again, even though many wanted him to continue his political career.

He learned that the life of a politician and musician were very different, I imagine. Also, he did not want to get involved in the meaningless political fights that politicians often do even today.

Verdi is considered one of the people who contributed to the unification of Italy. He did not fight against Austria. He just made patriotic opera for Italians. His opera helped remind Italians who they were during a difficult time. His music played a big role spiritually and united the people.

If you want to feel Italians’ hearts when they watched the opera “Nabucco,” I highly recommend listening to “Va, Pensiero.” The song is known as the “Chorus of Hebrew Slaves.”

Whenever I listen to the music, my heart becomes teary and emotional. I also think about my ancestors who lived in Korea under Japanese rule.

If you do not know who Verdi is, I recommend listening to “Brindisi” from “La Traviata.” As soon as you hear the music, you will know what I mean.

Lee In-hyun
Lee In-hyun is a classical pianist and author of the award-winning book, “The Classic Class,” published in January. She works both in Korea and the United States. She currently resides in Los Angeles and can be reached at -- Ed.

By Korea Herald (
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