Visiting Verdi at the Musicians' Rest Home he founded in Milan
Verdi’s 28 operas (or 26, if you count “I Lombardi” and its revision “Jerusalem” as one opera; likewise “Stiffelio” and “Aroldo”), plus his Requiem, are his legacy to the performing arts. Wherever there is an opera house, you can be sure that at least one Verdi opera will be on the boards in any given year -– and if a season goes by without one, wait till next year.
Yet Verdi’s own idea of what his proudest legacy would be –- he called it his favorite of all his works -– was the Casa di Riposo per Musicisti, a retirement home in Milan for musicians who had reached age 65 and found themselves in dire straits. He bought the land in 1889, endowed the building himself and once his composing years were wrapping up, he spent much of his time supervising its construction. Verdi also insisted that he and his wife Giuseppina be re-buried there –- and that happened one month after the official funeral in a state ceremony that reportedly attracted 200,000 people.
Casa di Riposo still stands today beside a busy Milan traffic circle, still active –- and one fine March day in 2000, I visited Verdi’s tomb in an enclosure within the courtyard of the home. Inside the tomb are two slabs of metal on marble under which the remains of Signor and Signora Verdi lay, surrounded by arches, pillars and artwork.
The small room had a lovely, long reverberation time, as deep as the ages –- and since no one was there, I thought I’d whistle a Verdi tune to test the acoustics. Not something predictable, like “La donna è mobile” or “Sempre libera,” but rather, the tune that occurred to me was the theme from “Tutto nel mondo è burla” (“Life is the joke we make it”), the final fugue from his final opera, “Falstaff.” It is said that late in his career, the great German baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau was singing “Tutto nel mondo” in concert and decided right on the spot, this would be the time to retire –- right now, going out on a high note.
So I whistled, and the sound was absolutely fabulous, reverberating all around the tomb.
-- Richard S. Ginell
Photo: Casa di Riposo per Musicisti. Credit: Franco Folini