Blog 15 December 2015
Casa Natale di Verdi
During an opera inspired trip to Verona and Milan via Parma I suggested to my two friends from LuccaOperaFestival, Mattia and Michelle that we visit the birthplace of arguably Italy’s greatest and most famous composer Giuseppe Verdi. The very small rural village of Runcole di Busseto lies just north-west of Parma in typical flat farmland of the Po valley halfway between the long straight A1 autostrada and the winding twists and turns of the river Po. After a little difficulty we found the house which was unfortunately closed for the winter months but very fortunately the Osteria Vecchio Mulino Pallavicino next to the house was open.
The village consists of a few houses grouped around the parish church of San Michele and in one of these houses Carlo Giuseppe, Verdi’s father, ran a wine and grocery store. As the picture above shows the house is a typical lower Po Valley farm dwelling. On the 10th October 1813 Giuseppe Fortunino Francesco Verdi was born, his mother being Luigia (née Uttini) who married Carlo the year before in 1812. Verdi’s initial education was from the parish priest and musically from the church organist Pietro Baistrocchi. His musical talent soon became obvious and at ten years old he attended Busseto grammar school and later became a student of Ferdinando Provesi who was the Music School director, Chapel-master and Cathedral organist.
Verdi compositions were successful enough in Busseto and in 1836 aged twenty-three he married Margherita Barezzi. Tragically their two children died at an early age and tragedy struck again when his wife died four years later in 1840. This led Verdi to return to Busseto after moving to Milan and he even thought of giving up music altogether. However, having previously met the well-known and well-connected opera soprano Giuseppina Strepponi he gained his first major success in 1842 when the opera Nabucco premiered at La Scala in Milan and achieved huge public and critical acclaim. Later Verdi moved to Paris, discovered the works of Shakespeare, became acquainted with the influential politician Giuseppe Mazzini and began an intimate relationship with Strepponi.
Whilst living in Busseto Verdi’s relationship with Strepponi created enough gossip to cause him to move to the village of Sant’Agata in the commune of Villanova sull’Arda in the province of Piacenza but actually only two miles from Roncole. Having bought the villa in 1848, now known as Villa Verdi, he lived there often with his parents, married Giuseppina and together they extended and improved the property from a rustic dwelling to a grand estate buying large tracts of surrounding farmland.
Verdi’s musical as well as political career are beyond the scope of this ‘page’, however amongst other projects he financed a hospital and rest-home for musicians near his villa. Both he and Giuseppina were laid to rest in the crypt there after their deaths, Guiseppina in 1897 and Verdi in 1901.
I mentioned the Osteria Vecchio Mulino next door to where Verdi was born as this was the location of one of the best lunches I have had in Italy. The very local cuisine which Verdi’s family would have enjoyed, especially as his father ran the local wine and grocery store, remains traditional and unchanged. We enjoyed the local dried meats of Culatello di Zibello DOP, tender Strolghino and the renowned dry-cured shoulder, Spalla Cruda from Palasone. These boneless cuts of meat are obtained from very large pigs up to 250kgs in weight and we were able the see the seventeenth-century cellars where the Culatello, hand-tied in pigs bladders, improves and matures for several years creating a pungent ammonia smell! We also enjoyed the fried dough known as torta fritta, fresh home-made pasta ‘in brodo’, traditional desserts and of course local wine.
Verdi’s quotation above “Sono e saró sempre, un paesano delle Roncole” translates as “I am and will be always, a villager of Roncole” encapsulates what Verdi felt about this very small village and the land of his birth. Despite his great fame, wealth, political importance and enormous musical talent, he and Giuseppina chose to live amongst the humble rural countryside and its people most of his life.