October 10th marks the date when the world celebrates the 200th anniversary of the birth of Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901). Italy’s Verdi is invariably mentioned with Germany’s Richard Wagner (also born in 1813) as being the two greatest opera composers of the 19th century, although their styles were quite different, and their opinions of each other were usually less than complimentary.
In his own time, Verdi’s work was celebrated not only for the quality of his musical output, but also for the profound and political connection between his music and his nationalistic leanings towards an independent and unified Italy, freed from the yoke of the Austrian Habsburg Empire.
But for all of his musical and political accolades, what Verdi called his “best creation” may surprise you. No, it wasn’t any of his great operas, or his powerful Requiem, or songs, or sacred works. Or anything else he wrote – or said.
Instead, it was the Casa di Riposa per Musicisti, a retirement home for musicians in Milan. The home, an imposing mansion on Milan’s piazza Buonarotti, was Verdi’s idea of an enduring memorial to his music. And it wasn’t a retirement home limited only to those who sang at La Scala, either. In his vision, Verdi saw the Casa Verdi – as it is now known – as a place for elderly actors, ballerinas, and musicians of all types who had no money and nowhere else to go. Since it opened in 1902, more than one thousand residents have been housed here.
Verdi saw to it that royalties from his works would finance the home, and indeed the lira from such great works as Rigoletto, Aida, and Nabucco kept the Casa Verdi operational for decades. Today it runs on donations. Checks still come in from around the world, and prominent plaques in the main hall show the names of such major donors as Luciano Pavarotti, the Toscanini Family, Marilyn Horne, Maria Callas, and the Metropolitan Opera Company.
Mind you now, this retirement home is not a place for bingo games or arts and crafts: the Casa Verdi residents present weekly concerts that are open to the public. While there, concertgoers can also visit the tombs of Verdi and his wife Giuseppina, ensconced in the chapel on the Casa Verdi grounds.
Verdi celebrations will be noted around the world on the 200th anniversary in concert halls, opera houses and certainly on WCRB…but no place more deeply connected to the composer than at the Casa di Risposa. Verdi wrote a letter to his good friend Giulio Monteverdi saying: “…The poor, dear companions of my lifetime. Believe me, my friend, that Home is truly my most beautiful work.”
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