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Act Like You Know: Giuseppe Verdi

Don't be caught fishing for facts about Verdi on the bicentennial of his birth.
Getty Images/DeAgostini
Don't be caught fishing for facts about Verdi on the bicentennial of his birth.

It's that time of year again when freshly steamed curtains are rising on opera stages across the country, introducing another new season of performances. And this time, one composer will be popping up more than usual — Giuseppe Verdi.

He might have been born 200 years ago (Oct. 10, 1813), but Verdi's box office brawn has never flagged. From Fairbanks and Philly to Seattle, Chicago, Miami and Minneapolis, Verdi productions — and concerts featuring his Requiem — have probably never been easier to find.

Knowing a little something about Verdi this week is crucial. In the elevator, tossing out something provocative like "I've always believed that Verdi really improved Shakespeare in his three Bard-based operas, don't you?" is a good icebreaker for those awkward silences. Or, in the presence of any pop culture mavens, a quip like "You know, Zooey Deschanel would make a great Luisa Miller if she only sang opera" might inspire chuckles of admiration.

So, if you don't know your Traviata from your Trovatore or your Otellofrom your Aida, don't be caught at a cocktail party fumbling for facts about the so-called "king of opera." Here's a handy cheat sheet — with music — designed to help any operatic wannabe keep up.

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Tom Huizenga is a producer for NPR Music. He contributes a wide range of stories about classical music to NPR's news programs and is the classical music reviewer for All Things Considered. He appears regularly on NPR Music podcasts and founded NPR's classical music blog Deceptive Cadence in 2010.