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An Idyllic Musicians’ Retirement Home in Milan

Composer Verdi built the mansion for older opera stars in 1899


Part of the Transforming Life as We Age Special Report

What if you could grow older living alongside peers from your field who share your passions and knowledge? And what if you could do so in the most opulent setting imaginable in a beautiful European city?

Imagine, too, that you are an aging musician — a profession hardly known for having wealth in retirement — and that this is an option for you.

At Casa Verdi, a retirement home in Milan, Italy (also known as Milan’s Rest Home for Musicians), this is a reality for 60 older adult composers, singers, orchestra musicians, music teachers, conductors and anyone else who has worked as a music professional, according to a recent New York Times story that showcased gorgeous photos of the neo-Gothic mansion.

A Historical Setting for Retired Opera Stars

The mansion was built by Italian opera composer Guiseppe Verdi in 1899 in order to be used as a home for poverty-stricken older opera singers and musicians; it’s now run by the Giuseppe Verdi Foundation.  “Old singers not favored by fortune, or who, when they were young, did not possess the virtue of saving,” as the Times story quoted from a letter that Verdi wrote when the home was built. Today, although most residents are not poverty-stricken, they may pay on a sliding scale according to what they are able to afford.

Although the Giuseppe Verdi Foundation receives an abundance of applications each year, it chooses only enough to maintain its population of 60 residents, based on their professional background and potential fit. The Times reported that residents have access not only to room and board in a beautiful space, but also medical treatment, concerts, pianos, music practice rooms, a pipe organ, drum sets, harps and regular concerts. One 98-year-old former tenor quoted in the story also noted that you can “get a manicure, a haircut, a shave.”

Roberto Ruozi, president of the Giuseppe Verdi Foundation, told The Times that Casa Verdi’s talented clientele are much like other older adults who are no longer able to live in their own homes — with a few “notable” exceptions.

“First, they need music,” he said. “Second, they want to be treated not as common guests, but as special guests — as a star. We have 60 old musicians and 60 stars.”

Intergenerational Learning

For the past 20 years, Casa Verdi has also hosted younger musicians — students in their late teens and 20s who live there for lower rent and, in addition to joining the older musicians at meals, learn from the older musicians. The learning goes both ways, The Times story points out. “Cosimo Moretti de Angelis, 25, another student who lives at Casa Verdi, said that he tried to teach the older musicians how to use the internet,” reporter Sally McGrane wrote. Some of the older residents are shown accompanying younger musicians in the story’s photos, and many still teach music.

The article describes how one resident, 89-year-old Armando Gatto, was greeted as “maestro” by two singers he had conducted when they were younger men. Gatto moved to the home with his wife, a soprano who is now 90. He said Casa Verdi “feels protected.”

“I feel respected and loved,” he told The Times.

The original story and a series of photos can be found here.

By Shayla Thiel Stern
Shayla leads the editorial team and content strategy as the Director of Editorial and Content for Next Avenue at Twin Cities PBS. She has spent a career in digital media journalism and digital strategy at organizations including washingtonpost.comEdmunds.comCars.com and Fast Horse, and worked as a consultant for several years. She also was a media professor at the University of Minnesota and DePaul University and  has a Ph.D. in Mass Communication. She can be reached at [email protected].@shayla_stern

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