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.”


Drunk on smoke: Notre Dame’s bees survive cathedral blaze

Updated 20 April 2019
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Drunk on smoke: Notre Dame’s bees survive cathedral blaze

PARIS: Hunkered down in their hives and drunk on smoke, Notre Dame’s smallest official residents — some 180,000 bees — somehow managed to survive the inferno that consumed the cathedral’s ancient wooden roof.
Confounding officials who thought they had perished, the bees clung to life, protecting their queen.
“It’s a big day. I am so relieved. I saw satellite photos that showed the three hives didn’t burn,” Notre Dame beekeeper Nicolas Geant told The Associated Press on Friday.
“Instead of killing them, the CO2 (from smoke) makes them drunk, puts them to sleep,” he explained.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Beeopic (@beeopic) on


Geant has overseen the bees since 2013, when three hives were installed on the roof of the stone sacristy that joins the south end of the monument. The move was part of a Paris-wide initiative to boost declining bee numbers. Hives were also introduced above Paris’ gilded Opera.
The cathedral’s hives were lower than Notre Dame’s main roof and the 19th-century spire that burned and collapsed during Monday evening’s fire.
Since bees don’t have lungs, they can’t die from smoke inhalation — but they can die from excessive heat. European bees, unlike some bee species elsewhere, don’t abandon their hives when facing danger.
“When bees sense fire, they gorge themselves on honey and stay to protect their queen, who doesn’t move,” Geant said. “I saw how big the flames were, so I immediately thought it was going to kill the bees. Even though they were 30 meters (nearly 100 feet) lower than the top roof, the wax in the hives melts at 63 degrees Celsius (145.4 Fahrenheit).”

Notre Dame Cathedral’s three beehives — home to more than 180,000 bees  — survived the destructive fire. (Instagram/Beeopic)

If the wax that protects their hive melts, the bees simply die inside, Geant explained.
Smoke, on the other hand, is innocuous. Beekeepers regularly smoke out the hives to sedate the colony whenever they need access inside. The hives produce around 75 kilograms (165 pounds) of honey annually, which is sold to Notre Dame employees.
Notre Dame officials saw the bees on top of the sacristy Friday, buzzing in and out of their hives.
“I wouldn’t call it a miracle, but I’m very, very happy,” Geant added.