She is often credited with having been responsible for the Verdi's first successes, starring in a number of his early operas, including the role of Abigaille in the world premiere of Nabucco in 1842. A highly gifted singer, Strepponi excelled in the bel canto repertoire and spent much of her career portraying roles in operas by Vincenzo Bellini, Gaetano Donizetti, and Gioachino Rossini, often sharing the stage with tenor Napoleone Moriani and baritone Giorgio Ronconi. Donizetti wrote the title role of his opera Adelia specifically for Strepponi. She was described as possessing a "limpid, penetrating, smooth voice, seemly action, a lovely figure; and to Nature’s liberal endowments she adds an excellent technique"; her "deep inner feeling" was also lauded.
Strepponi was born in the city of Lodi in the Lombard region of Italy. She was the oldest child of Rosa Cornalba and Feliciano Strepponi (1797–1832), who was the organist at Monza Cathedral and a moderately successful opera composer. Her first lessons in music were with her father who focused mainly on teaching her to play the piano. After her father's death in 1832 of encephalitis, she studied singing and the piano at the Milan Conservatory where she notably won first prize for bel canto during her final year in 1834.
Strepponi made her professional opera début in December 1834 as Adria in Luigi Ricci’s Chiara di Rosembergh at the Teatro Orfeo. She had her first major success during the following spring at the Theatro Grande in Triest singing the title role in Rossini's Matilde di Shabran. This success quickly led to numerous engagements at major opera houses throughout Italy and Giuseppina soon became her family's major bread winner. In the summer of 1835, she went to Austria to sing Adalgisa in Bellini's Norma and Amina in Bellini's La sonnambula at the Theater am Kärntnertor in Vienna where she was praised highly by audiences and critics. Although she was highly talented, she never sang outside Italy after 1835.
Strepponi became a celebrity among opera singers during the late 1830s, arousing fanatical enthusiasm in performances throughout Italy. In 1836 she sang the roles of Ninetta in Rossini's La gazza ladra, Elvira in Bellini's I puritani, and the title role in Rossini's La Cenerentola at the Teatro La Fenice in Venice. The following year she reprised the role of Elvira and portrayed the roles of Elena in Donizetti's Marino Faliero and the title role in Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor at the Teatro Comunale di Bologna. In 1838 she sang the title roles in Donizetti's Maria di Rudenz, Bellini's Beatrice di Tenda, and Carlo Coccia's Caterina di Guisa at the Imperial Regio Teatro degli Avvalorati in Livorno. She made her La Scala debut in 1839, replacing Antonietta Marini-Rainieri, who was found unsuitable in the work's premiere performance, as Leonora in the first production of Giuseppe Verdi's first opera Oberto. Strepponi's performance was considered one of the strongest aspects of this production and one of the main reasons that the work was received well. Other notable roles for Strepponi during the late 1830s include Elaisa in Saverio Mercadante's Il giuramento, Adina in Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore and Sandrina in Luigi Ricci’s Un’avventura di Scaramuccia.
Shortly after returning to Italy in 1836, Strepponi began a relationship with tenor Napoleone Moriani, which ultimately led to the birth of two illegitimate children. Moriani and Strepponi frequently shared the stage together during the late 1830s and early 1840s, often appearing opposite each other in operas by Donizetti and Bellini. The relationship, however, did not last and Strepponi ultimately left him for Bartolomeo Merelli, the manager of La Scala, in the early 1840s. Her relationship with Merelli resulted in another illegitimate son and only lasted a few years. This account is disputed by both Frank Walker and Baldini, and Phillips-Matz's investigations have produced an entirely different scenario.
Strepponi continued to remain a highly popular singer during the early 1840s. She notably sang the title role in Donizetti's Adelia in 1841 at the Teatro Apollo in Rome, a role written specifically for her by the composer. This was followed by a critically acclaimed portrayal as Abigaille in the world premiere of Verdi's Nabucco at La Scala in 1842. She reprised the role of Abigaille 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. Also in 1843, she sang the roles of Elisabetta in Donizetti's Roberto Devereux and Imogene in Bellini's Il pirata in Bologna.
Other notable roles for Strepponi during the early 1840s included the title role in Bellini's Norma, the Marchesa del Poggio in Verdi's Un giorno di regno, and the title role in Giovanni Pacini's Saffo.
Around 1844, Strepponi began to experience significant vocal problems, most likely brought on by her relentless performing schedule, which culminated in a disastrous season in Palermo in 1845, where she was booed by audiences. Her voice never recovered and she thereafter appeared only sporadically in operas until her retirement in February 1846. Most of her last performances were in operas by Verdi, including performances of Elvira in Ernani and Lucrezia Contarini in I due Foscari.
Strepponi in Paris with Verdi
In October 1846 Strepponi moved to Paris and became a singing teacher. She came out of her stage retirement briefly for one last opera appearance at the Comédie-Italienne which was not well received. Verdi, who was in England for the premiere of his opera I masnadieri in July 1847, returned via Paris and the two began a romantic relationship, with the composer remaining in Paris for two years (albeit with short periods in Italy to oversee productions of two of his new operas written while a resident in that city).
Although unmarried until 1859, the couple remained together for the rest of their lives and she supported her husband in his career. Their marriage was happy and Verdi was deeply saddened by her death in Sant’Agata, near Busseto in 1897.
Depictions in media
- After Aida: Strepponi is one of the main characters in Julian Mitchell's 1985 play-with-music, which focuses on Verdi's life and compositions after 1879 and in persuading him to compose Otello
- Risorgimento! (2011), the opera by Italian composer Lorenzo Ferrero.
- Budden, pp. 582 - 583
- Riemens, p. 487
- Walker, p. 51
- Baldini, p. 145: He states that it is certain that Giuseppina was not Merelli's lover, that she had no sons by him...."
- Phillips-Matz, "Giuseppina Strepponi", pp. 118 - 126
- See "Verdi and Strepponi in Paris, 1847 to 1849"
- Baldini, Gabriele, (trans. Roger Parker), The Story of Giuseppe Verdi: Oberto to Un Ballo in Maschera. Cambridge, et al: Cambridge University Press, 1980. ISBN 0-521-29712-5.
- Budden, Julian, "Giuseppina Strepponi", in Stanley Sadie, (Ed.), The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, Vol. Four, pp. 582 – 583. London: MacMillan Publishers, Inc. 1998. ISBN 0-333-73432-7. ISBN 1-56159-228-5.
- Kutsch, K. J. and Riemens, Leo, A Concise Biographical Dictionary of Singers: From the Beginning of Recorded Sound to the Present (Trans. from German, expanded and annotated by Harry Earl Jones). Philadelphia, Chilton Book Company, 1969. ISBN 0-8019-5516-5.
- Phillips-Matz, Mary Jane, "Giuseppina Strepponi" (early life), Verdi: A Biography, pp. 118–126. London & New York: Oxford University Press, 1993. ISBN 0-19-313204-4.
- Walker, Frank, The Man Verdi, New York: Knopf, 1962, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982. ISBN 0-226-87132-0.