Retired musicians enjoy ‘grand finale’ at Verdi home

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Retired Italian pianist Raimondo Campisi came to Casa Verdi four years ago after living for 20 years on a boat in Beaulieu-sur-Mer in the south of France. (AFP)
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Musical instruments adorn the Casa Verdi retirement home, ready to be played by around 60 retired musicians staying there. (AFP)
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A music sheet for Otello lies on a piano inside Casa Verdi, a retirement home for musicians created in December 1899 by Italian opera composer Giuseppe Verdi. (AFP)
Updated 18 March 2019
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Retired musicians enjoy ‘grand finale’ at Verdi home

  • ‘For me, music is everything, and I didn’t expect to find such a fantastic place’
  • Casa Verdi is run by the Giuseppe Verdi Foundation and has neither debts nor public funding

MILAN: Nearly 120 years after Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi called it his “most beautiful work,” aging musicians still play out their days at his Casa Verdi retirement home.
Piano music resonates down the corridors of the sumptuous Milan palazzo, while a singer performs in the vast main room for dozens of pensioners, who were once professional musicians themselves.
With around 60 residents who have all dedicated their lives to music, the sound of music in one form or another is everywhere.
“This place is paradise,” says Marisa Terzi, 79, who arrived four months ago.
“For me, music is everything, and I didn’t expect to find such a fantastic place.”
“It’s everything but a rest home! It’s a holiday home,” she laughs.
“Time flies ... in the morning there’s a pianist, and everyone comes to listen, even those in wheelchairs.
“We all sing together, it’s so beautiful, and then there are concerts all afternoon.”
Terzi, a singer and composer, moved in because she says she had “no more family.”
“I’m lucky, because I really feel at home here,” she adds.
Romanian-born musicologist Bissy Roman, 94, is also happy to be in a place where residents can play music themselves, enjoy listening to others play it and are surrounded by fellow musicians.
“There came a time when I felt like I was all alone in the world, I didn’t have anyone anymore, and the Casa Verdi was the last solution: dying with music in my heart and near my musician companions,” she said, having lived in Russia, France and the United States during her long life.
Verdi, who composed operas such as “Aida” and “La traviata,” was himself elderly when he decided at the end of the 19th century to create a “rest home” in what was then the countryside outside Milan.
The neoclassical palazzo, designed by Camillo Boito, the brother of one of Verdi’s favorite libretto writers, was built to allow impoverished musicians to live out their days in dignity.
According to his own wishes, the Casa Verdi only opened in 1902, a year after the composer died aged 87.
Almost 120 years later, the home is run by the Giuseppe Verdi Foundation and has neither debts nor public funding, which is “a real miracle,” said the home’s president Roberto Ruozi.
Residents make a monthly contribution based on their means.
However, this amount always comes to “less than a fifth of the running costs,” with the lion’s share covered by income from past investments, Ruozi said.
“Verdi left the rights to his royalties to Casa Verdi, which was for 60 years a non-negligible sum, part of which was invested” in 120 apartments that are today rented out, he added.
The home has also received donations, such as one of about six million euros ($6.8 million) from the daughter of Italian conductor Arturo Toscanini, which are subsequently invested.
“We get room and board, there’s medical help. We’re looked after marvelously and we have everything: rooms to play the piano, a concert hall...,” said pianist Raimondo Campisi, 71.
He came here four years ago after living for 20 years on a boat in Beaulieu-sur-Mer in the south of France. He spent his career traveling the world playing the piano.
Besides retirees, the Casa is also home to around 15 music students, some from Milan’s renowned La Scala Academy, as part of a project to connect different generations started in 1999.
Just like her fellow musicians from Italy, Japan or South Korea, 30-year-old soprano Marika Spadafino appreciates the mix.
“I speak a lot with the pensioners, they listen to me sing, give me tips,” said the southern Italian native.
“They know how to share their experiences. For me, coming from a family where no one played music, it’s really important.
“And when things don’t go well, they know how to console you and give you the strength to go on,” said Spadafino.
Nevertheless, passions can run high at times among the group of musicians.
“Put 60 artists living together, oh la, you can just imagine!” said Campisi.
The Casa Verdi has a waiting list of around 10 people, who will have to bide their time for a spot until a current resident die.
“I hope I’ll be here a little longer,” said Terzi. “But we all know that we’ll die here, so we’re always ready.”


Vulture with GPS tracker held in Yemen on suspicion it was used for spying

Updated 45 min 17 sec ago
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Vulture with GPS tracker held in Yemen on suspicion it was used for spying

  • The bird migrated from Bulgaria, to Turkey, to Jordan, Saudi Arabia and then Yemen
  • Govt forces detained the bird on suspicion that the attached GPS tracker was a spy device for Houthi militants

SANAA: Griffon vulture Nelson crossed into war-torn Yemen in search of food but ended up in the hands of Yemeni fighters — and temporarily in jail for suspected espionage.
The sand-colored bird came down in the country’s third city of Taiz, an unusual move for a young vulture that can soar for long distances across continents in search of food and moderate weather.
Nelson, approximately two years old, embarked on his journey in September 2018 from Bulgaria, where his wing was tagged and equipped with a satellite transmitter by the Fund for Wild Fauna and Flora (FWFF).
But he seems to have lost his way, eventually coming down into Taiz — under siege by Houthi rebels but controlled by pro-government forces, who mistook Nelson’s satellite transmitter for an espionage device and detained the bird.
Forces loyal to the government believed that the GPS tracker attached to the bird may have been a spy device for the rebels.
Hisham Al-Hoot, who represents the FWFF in Yemen, traveled from the rebel-held capital Sanaa to Taiz to plead with local officials to release the helpless animal.
“It took about 12 days to get the bird,” he told AFP.
“The Bulgarian foreign ministry reached out to the Yemeni ambassador, who in turn contacted local officials (in Taiz) and told them to immediately give the organization the vulture.”
Hoot said that the bird migrated from Bulgaria, to Turkey, to Jordan, Saudi Arabia and then Yemen — where the FWFF lost track of the bird.
Nelson was MIA until April 5, when the conservation group received hundreds of messages from Yemenis concerned about the creatures’ welfare.
Today, the locally-famous vulture is being properly fed and getting stronger every day.
“When we first took him, he was in very bad condition,” said Hoot, adding that the bird was underweight.
Smiling, he puts on gloves and carefully handles the majestic creature — blowing it a kiss.
Hoot said the bird will be released in two months when he believed Nelson will have regained his full strength and his wing — broken somewhere during his journey — will have healed.
“We thought at first it would take six months for him to heal, but now we don’t think it will be more than two months,” he said.
Hoot said that Nelson was not able to find any source of sustenance in Yemen.
“They can eat carcasses of dead animals, but now there is no more with the current situation of war.
“This is what forced him to come down and stopped him from completing his journey.”
The four-year conflict in Yemen has unleashed the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, according to the United Nations, with millions facing famine.
The war escalated in March 2015 when a coalition, led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, intervened to bolster the efforts of Yemeni President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi.
Since then, at least 10,000 people — most of them civilians — have been killed and more than 60,000 wounded, according to the World Health Organization. Other rights groups estimate the toll could be much higher.