Verdi, Wagner, and Puccini: The Three Biggest Influences

This article is a collaborative effort, crafted and edited by a team of dedicated professionals.

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


While there are many great opera composers out there, three of the biggest names are Verdi, Wagner, and Puccini. These three giants have had a huge influence on the world of opera, and their work is still hugely popular today. If you’re new to opera, or just want to learn more about these three important composers, this blog post is for you!


Giuseppe Verdi is one of the most important opera composers of the 1800s. He wrote 28 operas, including “Rigoletto,” “Il trovatore,” “La traviata,” and “Aida.” Many of his operas are still performed today. Verdi was born in a small village in Italy in 1813. His father was a landlord and his mother was a schoolteacher. He was their first child. Verdi’s father wanted him to be a lawyer or a businessman, but Verdi wanted to be a musician. When he was seven, his father agreed to let him study music with the village church organist. At age 11, he went to study at a conservatory in Busseto. He lived there for nine years and studied composition and piano.

Verdi’s first opera, “Oberto,” was performed in 1839. It was not successful. His next opera, “Un giorno di regno,” was also not successful. Verdi began to lose hope that he would ever be a successful composer. But then he wrote “Nabucco.” It premiered in 1842 and was a huge success! The audience loved it, and it made Verdi famous overnight.

After “Nabucco,” Verdi wrote many more operas that are still performed today, including “Macbeth,” “Don Carlos,” and “Otello.” He also wrote religious music and several famous pieces for the piano. Verdi died in 1901 at the age of 87.


Richard Wagner was a German composer, conductor, theatre director and polemicist, primarily known for his operas. Unlike most opera composers, Wagner wrote both the libretto and the music for each of his stage works. Initially establishing his reputation as a composer of works in the romantic vein of Carl Maria von Weber and Giacomo Meyerbeer, Wagner revolutionised opera through his concepts of musical drama, which emphasised continuity in the musical representation of dramatic action. He introduced leitmotifs—musical themes associated with particular characters, places, or ideas—to help the audience follow the storyline.

Wagner had his own opera house built, the Bayreuth Festspielhaus, which preserved many traditions of earlier theatres. It was here that the first complete performances of four of his works were given: The Flying Dutchman in 1843; Tannhäuser in 1845; Lohengrin in 1850; and Tristan und Isolde in 1865. His works are rarely performed outside Bayreuth due to their huge scale and unusual instrumentation (more than 1000 musicians have been used). These include not only very large orchestral forces but also such specialised onstage instrumental groups as sixteen off-stage French horns for Parsifal and an onstage band playing Hunteslieder music at key moments in Gottfried von Strassburg’s Tristan.

Wagner also effected changes in concert halls themselves by advocating higher stages to increase visibility over larger orchestras and he popularized new stage technologies such as electric lighting for enhanced staging effects during performance.


Giuseppe Fortunino Francesco Verdi (10 October 1813 – 27 January 1901) was an Italian opera composer. He was born near Busseto to a provincial family of moderate means, and developed a musical education with the help of a local patron. Verdi came to dominate the Italian opera scene after the era of Bellini, Donizetti and Rossini, whose works significantly influenced him. By his 30s, he had became one of the pre-eminent opera composers in history.

In his early operas Verdi demonstrated a maturity of feeling and an attention to dramatic detail that was immediately apparent from his incipient masterpieces, Nabucco (1842) and I Lombardi alla prima crociata (1843). His only operatic failures were Aroldo in 1857 and Stiffelio in 1850; both are now rarely performed.

Verdi’s notable operatic successes include Rigoletto (1851), Il trovatore (1853), La traviata (1853), Don Carlos (1867), Aida (1871), Otello (1887) and Falstaff (1893). He also wrote several works for the stage outside of the opera house, including parts in string quartets and piano pieces. He died at his villa in 1901 at the age of 87.

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