Retired musicians enjoy ‘grand finale’ at Italian composer Verdi’s home - GulfToday

Retired musicians enjoy ‘grand finale’ at Italian composer Verdi’s home

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Retired Italian pianist Raimondo Campisi plays the piano at ‘Casa Verdi’ (top), residents are pictured next to music instruments at the home (left), Statue of Italian Opera composer Giuseppe Verdi and the mansion known as ‘Casa Verdi’ (right) Agence France-Presse

Nearly 120 years after Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi called it his “most beautiful work”, ageing musicians still play out their days at his Casa Verdi retirement home.

Piano music resonates down the corridors of the sumptuous Milan palazzo, while a singer performs in the vast main room for dozens of pensioners, who were once professional musicians themselves.

With around 60 residents who have all dedicated their lives to music, the sound of music in one form or another is everywhere.

“This place is paradise,” says Marisa Terzi, 79, who arrived four months ago.

“For me, music is everything, and I didn’t expect to find such a fantastic place.”

“It’s everything but a rest home! It’s a holiday home,” she laughs.

“Time flies... in the morning there’s a pianist, and everyone comes to listen, even those in wheelchairs.

“We all sing together, it’s so beautiful, and then there are concerts all afternoon.”

Terzi, a singer and composer, moved in because she says she had “no more family”.

“I’m lucky, because I really feel at home here,” she adds.

Romanian-born musicologist Bissy Roman, 94, is also happy to be in a place where residents can play music themselves, enjoy listening to others play it and are surrounded by fellow musicians.

“There came a time when I felt like I was all alone in the world, I didn’t have anyone anymore, and the Casa Verdi was the last solution: dying with music in my heart and near my musician companions,” she said, having lived in Russia, France and the United States during her long life.

Verdi, who composed operas such as “Aida” and “La traviata”, was himself elderly when he decided at the end of the 19th century to create a “rest home” in what was then the countryside outside Milan.

The neoclassical palazzo, designed by Camillo Boito, the brother of one of Verdi’s favourite libretto writers, was built to allow impoverished musicians to live out their days in dignity. According to his own wishes, the Casa Verdi only opened in 1902, a year after the composer died aged 87.

Almost 120 years later, the home is run by the Giuseppe Verdi Foundation and has neither debts nor public funding, which is “a real miracle”, said the home’s president Roberto Ruozi.

Residents make a monthly contribution based on their means. However this amount always comes to “less than a fifth of the running costs”, with the lion’s share covered by income from past investments, Ruozi said.

“Verdi left the rights to his royalties to Casa Verdi, which was for 60 years a non-negligeable sum, part of which was invested” in 120 apartments that are today rented out, he added.

The home has also received donations, such as one of about six million euros ($6.8 million) from the daughter of Italian conductor Arturo Toscanini, which are subsequently invested. “We get room and board, there’s medical help. We’re looked after marvellously and we have everything: rooms to play the piano, a concert hall...,” said pianist Raimondo Campisi, 71.

He came here four years ago after living for 20 years on a boat in Beaulieu-sur-Mer in the south of France. He spent his career travelling the world playing the piano.

Besides retirees, the Casa is also home to around 15 music students, some from Milan’s renowned La Scala Academy, as part of a project to connect different generations started in 1999.

Just like her fellow musicians from Italy, Japan or South Korea, 30-year-old soprano Marika Spadafino appreciates the mix.

“I speak a lot with the pensioners, they listen to me sing, give me tips,” said the southern Italian native.

“They know how to share their experiences. For me, coming from a family where no one played music, it’s really important.

“And when things don’t go well, they know how to console you and give you the strength to go on,” said Spadafino. Nevertheless, passions can run high at times among the group of musicians. “Put 60 artists living together, oh la la, you can just imagine!” said Campisi.

The retirement home for musicians was created in December 1899 by Italian opera composer Giuseppe Verdi for musicians who found themselves poverty-stricken in old age. Verdi himself acknowledged it “the most beautiful work” of his life. Nearly 120 years later, the retirement home still hosts, in a sumptuous area of central Milan, about sixty residents who have dedicated their lives to music. Casa Verdi is run by the Giuseppe Verdi Foundation.

The Casa Verdi has a waiting list of around 10 people, who will have to bide their time for a spot until a current resident dies.

“I hope I’ll be here a little longer,” said Terzi. “But we all know that we’ll die here, so we’re always ready.”

Agence France-Presse


Giuseppe Verdi

Giuseppe Verdi (1813–1901) was one of the greatest operatic composers. His instincts for melody and thrilling drama have ensured the enduring popularity of many of his 28 operas, which include Rigoletto, La traviata, Don Carlo and Otello.

Verdi was born to a family of innkeepers and grew up near Busseto in northern Italy. Later in life he made much of his ‘peasant’ background and lack of formal music education.

While in truth his talent was nurtured fairly early on, Verdi still faced terrible difficulties: the triple tragedy of the death of his two children in 1838 and 1839, and his wife Margherita in 1840, followed by the catastrophic failure of his second opera Un giorno di regno, almost led him to renounce composition altogether.

The unprecedented success of Nabucco changed everything. Verdi wrote 16 operas in the following 11 years, and in the last few (from Rigoletto in 1851 on) achieved a rich maturity. Following the sensationally popular La traviata Verdi’s pace slowed as he focussed on larger works, including Les Vêpres siciliennes and Don Carlos for the Paris Opéra.

After Aida (1871), a massive work commissioned to celebrate the opening of the Cairo Opera House, Verdi apparently retired. Nearly ten years later, Verdi’s publisher Giulio Ricordi enticed him back to composition by proposing a collaboration with the young composer and librettist Arrigo Boito. A revised Simon Boccanegra in 1881 was followed by two last, great operas, based on works by Shakespeare, Verdi’s favourite playwright: Otello (1887) and Falstaff (1893).

Verdi’s letters reveal a man of uncompromising integrity. He was intimately involved with every stage of his operas’ creation, often writing nearly as much of the libretto as his chosen librettist. All his operas exhibit a sophisticated development of Italian opera conventions, used to further his incisive character portraits.

Agencies