The Casa di Riposo per Musicisti (Rest Home for Musicians) in Milan is almost always referred to as the Casa Verdi after the titan of opera who built and paid for it. Verdi’s operatic career was over; he was in his eighties when he decided to build a home for retired musicians. Working closely with the architect Camillo Boito, the brother of his last librettist Arrigo, he built a mansion designed to house musicians during the latter portion of their lives.

He wanted everything about the place to be first rate and it was and still is. When it was suggested that money could be saved by housing two retirees in a room instead of one he quickly rejected the suggestion saying that doing so would impinge on a resident’s dignity.

To fund the home he left it the royalties earned by his operas. They were considerable. He was the first composer to become wealthy as the consequence of the earnings of his music. Verdi made the pun of saying that his home for musicians was his finest opera. ‘Opera’ in Italian means ‘work’.

Clearly, the project meant a lot to him. He wrote a friend not long before he died: “Of all my works, that which pleases me the most is the Casa that I had built in Milan to shelter elderly singers who have not been favored by fortune, or who when they were young did not have the virtue of saving their money. Poor and dear companions of my life!”

Consider the contrast between the two great figures of 19th century opera. Richard Wagner built a theater solely devoted to the performance of his operas that was paid for by others. Giuseppe Verdi built a home for musicians which he funded solely with his own money.

Over the century and a quarter since the home opened about 1500 musicians have passed their final days in a splendid building designed and staffed to meet their needs. Recently young musicians have been housed there for brief periods to allow the knowledge acquired by their older colleagues to be preserved.

It’s been 75 years since Verdi’s work passed to the public domain and thus royalties stopped. The home is still well funded because of the foresight of its administrators who invested part of the Verdi income in apartment buildings which provides a steady income. There have also been generous gifts from affluent musicians such as Luciano Pavarotti and the Toscanini heirs. The home has wisely and successfully avoided seeking money from the government.

After Verdi died in January 1901, he was interred in a temporary grave. When the permanent site, at the Casa Verdi of course, was ready more than 350,00 people accompanied the funeral cortege. It is still the largest public gathering in Italian history. This vast throng spontaneously began singing Va pensiero the great chorus from Verdi’s third opera, Nabucco, and his first success. Verdi’s grave is next to that of his wife Giuseppina – Joseph and Josephine.

The video below is a six minute piece by PBS devoted to a summary of the Casa Verdi as it is today. Well worth six minutes of your time.

Casa Verdi Video