Until just before the trip, I wasn’t sure if I would be allowed into Villa Verdi. The mansion had been closed to the public for more than a year, since Verdi’s heirs lived on the upper floors while tourists roamed the ground floor. The floor has been moved for sale. The Italian government is working on a takeover, but the process has been long and complicated. My visit was facilitated by Paolo Mayer, head of public relations at the Royal Opera House near Parma, where he was presenting the (appropriately) inventive contemporary production of “Il Trovatore” as part of the annual Verdi Festival. ” I watched it.
The next day, he took my husband and I on a drive from Parma to the towns that make up Verdiland.
Villa Verdi’s main house is simple yet imposing, with stone walls painted an earthy yellow and large windows with green shutters that are now firmly closed. When we arrived, Roberto Montecchi, the institute manager overseeing the proposed auction, dramatically handed me the key to open the door for the first time in 12 months.
Just standing in that space reinforced the impression I had had of Verdy for many years. After his triumphant 1842 premiere at La Scala, Nabucco was performed in theaters across Europe. Verdi could have bought a nice house in Milan, Venice, Paris, anywhere. Instead, he bought a farm in a remote location. In government documents, he listed his occupation as “agricortore,” or farmer. Verdi was literally based on his education and values as an earthling. Often complaining in letters about incompetent impresarios and censors who took ridiculous objections to his dramas, he threatened to give up and “dig in the fields and forget all about music and theater.” But he was inspired to create.
Despite the window shutters and curtains drawn, the red velvet drawing room gives off the feel of the legendary gatherings and intimate performances that Verdi held there on the rare evenings when he craved privacy. It was set. In his office, he still keeps the letter rejecting his application that he received from the Milan Conservatory when he was 18, and he always kept it within sight.