MILAN – Verdi called it “the most beautiful work” of his life. Nearly 120 years later, its “rest home for musicians” still hosts, in a majestic area of Milan, sixty residents who have dedicated their lives to music.
The sound of a piano escapes through the corridors, while a singer revives old tunes in the main hall, surrounded by dozens of boarders. In the elegant Casa Verdi, music is on every floor.
“Here is heaven. For me, music is everything, and I did not expect to find such a great place, “said Marisa Terzi, 79, who arrived four months ago.
“It’s all but a rest home! It’s a vacation home! “She laughs. “Time flies … In the morning, there is a pianist, and everyone, including those in wheelchairs, come to listen. We all sing together, it’s very beautiful, and then there are concerts every afternoon. ”
Marisa, a long-time singer and songwriter, arrived at Casa Verdi when she had “no family”. “I’m lucky because I really feel at home here.”
This recognition, Bissy Roman, 94, also shares it: “At one point, I had the feeling of being alone in the world, I had no one left, and Casa Verdi presented itself as the last solution: to die with the music in the heart and my fellow musicians, “said this musicologist of Romanian origin who lived in Russia, the United States and France.
Already very old, Giuseppe Verdi decided at the end of XIX th century to create this “rest house”, in what was then still the Milanese countryside, northern Italy. Objective: to allow indigent musicians to finish their lives decently. The neoclassical building is designed by architect Camillo Boito, brother of one of his principal librettists.
But Casa Verdi will open in 1902, after the death of the musician at 87, the latter refusing to be thanked.
And 117 years later, it is working like the first day, without debt or public support, a “real miracle”, according to its president Roberto Ruozi.
The residents pay a monthly contribution, calculated according to their income, but which represents less than one fifth of the real cost of their stay, “thanks to the money generated by the heritage that we have,” explains Ruozi.
“Verdi has left Casa Verdi all its copyright, which for 60 years has represented significant sums, which have been partly invested” in 120 apartments, now rented, he recalls.
Casa Verdi has also benefited from donations, such as the 6 million euro ($ 9 million) donated by the daughter of conductor Arturo Toscanini, who also generates income from the investments made.
“We are housed, fed, there is medical assistance. We take care of ourselves wonderfully and there is everything: rooms to work the piano, the concert hall …. “emphasizes Raimondo Campisi, a 71-year-old pianist who arrived four years ago at Casa Verdi, after having lived for 20 years on a boat in Beaulieu-sur-Mer, in the south of France, and touring around the world.
The institution also hosts about fifteen students from the conservatory or academy of La Scala, Milan’s famous opera house. An initiative launched in 1999 to allow intergenerational exchange.
Like other students from Italy, Japan and Korea, Marika Spadafino, a 30-year-old soprano, appreciates this mix.
“I talk a lot with the boarders, they listen to me sing, give me advice. They know how to convey their experience. For me who comes from a family where nobody is a musician, it’s very important. And when things do not go well, they know how to comfort you and give you the strength to continue, “said the young woman from Apulia.
Of course, the pangs of old age can sometimes make everyday life difficult. Bissy, the nonagenarian musicologist, suffers from not being as free as before, she who has traveled so much and cherished her freedom.
But “it’s the only thing I do not like.” Because “here we are really good. I am very busy. I teach music, singing, opera and also languages, “says the one who speaks seven, before pushing the ditty with Raimondo.
When asked about possible tensions, while the musicians are known for their strong character, the elegant pianist chuckles: “You put together 60 artists … oh there, you can imagine!”
The house has a waiting list of ten people, waiting for a musician to go out to take his place.
“I hope to be a little bit more,” says Marisa, who savored every day here. But we know we’ll all die here, so we’re ready. “