A biblical story turned romantic opera by Verdi, or rather by his librettist. The libretto was offered to another composer first, but he refused. He has regretted that decision after seeing the glorious success of Verdi’s work after the premiere in 1842.

Incidentally, Verdi refused it too. He just had a period of disaster with the production of Un giorno di regno, and the death of two of his children and his wife. He doubted his own ability to compose, and had actually vowed never to try it again.

The impresario of the Scala however, didn’t take no for an answer. Verdi’s version of the events is that he came home with the libretto, threw it furiously on the table, when it opened exactly on the page of the famous chorus of the Jewish slaves: Va pensiero. The line made Verdi interested enough to read the rest.

Not only that, for that line he composed what is maybe the most famous opera chorus ever written. It has been proposed as the national anthem for Italy. If you never know anything of opera, you will still recognise the song.

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