Thanks to a very generous donation, retired opera singers can live out their final years in a sprawling mansion complete with a piano and daily doses of inspirational music.
The old saying goes that it isn't over until the fat lady sings. Because of late Italian opera composer Giuseppe Verdi, who passed away in 1901, no beloved opera singer, fat or thin, has had to worry about where to spend their golden years since his passing.
Verdi founded the Giuseppe Verdi Foundation in 1899 with the dream of housing retired opera singers and opera musicians in a 20-plus-room neo-Gothic mansion that he had built strictly with the foundation in mind. Verdi hired Camillo Boito, brother of Italian poet and opera composer, Arrigo Boito, to construct the mansion which is formally named Casa di Riposo per Musicisti but lovingly nicknamed and often referred to as simply "Casa Verdi." Camillo passed away in 1901 along with Verdi but the construction of the retirement home had been completed by then and it was considered the builder's final masterpiece.
According to NPR, the opera retirement home was opened after Verdi's death in accordance with his wishes. Modest Verdi did not want to be thanked by those who would benefit from the home. His will stated that his royalties and capital would go towards to maintenance of the property. Verdi's will also made it clear that he wished for the home to always be open to "less fortunate musicians, those who were dedicated to the Art of Music as a profession."
Thanks to his kindness, more than a thousand former opera singers as well as conductors, chorus members, orchestra players, teachers and dancers have benefited from living out their final years in dignity, surrounded by like-minded people in an environment that feeds artistic passion.
A statue of Verdi stands before the looming 19th century mansion. And as it turns out, the actual Verdi remains on the premises as well. Verdi, along with his second wife, Giuseppina Strepponi, are buried on the premises. His passion for the project ran extremely deep because he watched as his former colleagues were reduced to living in poverty at the end of their lives. No pension plans existed in Italy for musicians at the time and Verdi vowed to leave a lasting legacy to change things for opera musicians.
But since 1998, Verdi's retirement home has done much more. That year, the Foundation decided to add another level of charity by also hosting young, deserving and less fortunate music students who are attending music schools in Milan. The addition has been an enlightening experience for both the senior and younger residents at Casa Verdi.
93-year-old Bissy Roman, a Casa Verdi resident for almost four years now, gives voice lessons to a young woman from China who is just one of the six students and fellow residents that she teaches every week.
Gratitude from the residents to their benefactor is abundant behind the mansion's walls.
"In Italy, Verdi isn't considered only a composer, only a musician, but kind of a national hero," former soprano Lina Vasta, a current Casa Verdi resident, told NPR. "He used his operas to give voice to people — to humble people, to modest people, to poor people. Grazie, Verdi."