Wednesday, October 09, 2013


Bust of Verdi outside
Teatro Massimo, Palermo
Image: Wikimedia Commons

I am not going to say, "Happy birthday, Verdi" as I abhor the online habit of wishing the dead a happy birthday / Christmas / weekend / everything but I am going to mark the composer's  bicentenary on this blog. Actually, there is some doubt as to whether Giuseppe Verdi was born on the 9th or 10th October 1813 but let's do it today. Italy is doing it tomorrow.  The Guardian has already asked its music writers for their favourite "Verdi moments" and you will find mine at the end of this post.

First, though, I want to tell you that when I spent some time in the Emilia-Romagna in 1981, I visited the region's Verdi locations with an Italian friend. The following is copied verbatim from my travel diary of that period:

Yesterday we went to seek out "Verdi land" which is near Parma.  We started at Roncole Verdi [formerly Le Roncole] to see the composer's birthplace. It's such a modest little house for someone who was to become so famous! It has a stone floor and walls and no lining of the roof. It was an inn and changing station for horses and Verdi's father ran a small grocery store next to it. Nearby is San Michele Church where Verdi learned to play the organ.

My souvenir booklet of the Verdi locations

We went on to Busseto. Here there is a Civic Museum, housed in the Villa Pallavicino: it has letters written by the master, manuscripts, opera posters and portraits of the Verdi family. The painter is usually Levi, born in Busseto. You can see Verdi's spinet, which his father saved up for. Verdi received it when he was nine. There is also a double bass which he played.  In Busseto, Verdi was encouraged by a local businessman, Antonio Barezzi and he later married Barezzi's daughter Margherita. The couple had two children, who died young. Margherita died after only four years of marriage. Now I understand how Verdi came to write so much sad and moving music. 

The Milan Conservatory said that Verdi had no musical talent!

Verdi's second wife was the soprano Giuseppina Strepponi but they had no children and the couple adopted a girl - the daughter of a cousin - from Roncole.

When Verdi was 55, the Teatro Giuseppe Verdi was opened in Busseto. It is a lovely theatre - very intimate and familiar, but with wonderful accoustics. Busseto is only a little town, but the love of its people for the "maestro" is evident in the way the theatre and museum are kept. I really think it's the nicest little theatre I've ever seen. Toscanini conducted there twice. Concerts are also held in the piazza in Busseto. 

Further on, in Villanova sull'Arda in Piacenza Province, is the Villa Sant'Agata or Villa Verdi. This is preserved much as Verdi left it and the guide there really knows her stuff. [You have to ring and wait for her - we nearly went away as we thought no one was coming!] She referred to Verdi as "il maestro" throughout her talk and you felt that she knew him - which, in a way, she does, living among all his belongings and telling his life story every day.

The first room you see is the one in which Giuseppina died and the second is the room where Verdi worked and slept. 

There are two pianos in the house - one that the composer used up to "Aida", and the other one that he used afterwards. There are portraits of his parrot and a little dog - he loved animals and the guide assured us that when he went hunting, he never killed.

We were shown the glove that Verdi used to conduct the Requiem for Manzoni - the only time he conducted in public. A bust of Manzoni is on display.

There are two small studies and then a room which contains the furniture from the Milan hotel room where Verdi died. It was all donated to the villa by the hotel.

It was a very rainy day and we'd had difficulty in finding the villa and then there was the wait in the cold for the guide but it was worth it! It was the 24th April, the anniversary of my Dad's funeral. I so wanted him to know I was in Verdi's house! What beauty Verdi brought to this earth, and from such humble beginnings, yet he was true to his origins to the last.

Incidentally, part of Bertolucci's "La Luna" was filmed in the countryside surrounding the villa.

If you go to the Villa Verdi, I can't promise that you will get the same, knowledgeable guide as I did all those years ago but it is possible in Italy!

Now here are some of my favourites:

Nabucco:  Anch'io dischiuso un giorno - Mirella Parutto

Un Ballo in maschera: Preludio - Claudio Abbado

La Traviata: Parigi, o cara - Callas e Kraus

The work of immortal artists can be reinterpreted down the ages so that it speaks to us all and this is certainly the case here:

Nabucco: Va, pensiero - Pavarotti e Zucchero

Happy Verdi Day, wherever you are!


Lee said...

I love the music of Verdi. He was a composer after my heart!

Whispering Walls said...

I love Verdi! I think my favourite is the slaves' chorus. Radio 3's doing a week of celebration of his music.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Me too, Lee. I think that would also be my favourite of them all, WW.


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