Where do retired musicians go after playing their last notes on stage and moving on from their professional careers?
For about 60 older musicians, the place to be is Milan’s Rest Home for Musicians, called Casa Verdi. A neo-Gothic mansion completed in central Milan by Italian opera composer Giuseppe Verdi in 1899, the innovative senior living community originally served as a refuge for poverty-stricken musicians in old age.
“Old singers not favored by fortune or who, when they were young, did not possess the virtue of saving,” Verdi wrote in a letter at the time, according to The New York Times.
Today, the Giuseppe Verdi Foundation funds the community with investments made with royalties from the composer’s operas. And thanks to pensions and social security, the sanctuary status of the home has shifted. Residents now pay on a sliding scale, according to what they can afford.
But securing a spot in Casa Verdi is no easy task. Every year, applications from composers, conductors, singers, orchestral players and more come pouring in. Applicants must prove their professional status, and the Casa Verdi board then makes selections.
“I am alone, I never married, my family is music,” resident and former opera director Bissy Roman, 93, told The New York Times. “So, I was obliged to find a solution for my old age.”
Once accepted, residents have the opportunity to spend their final years around music, with access to multiple concerts, music rooms, 15 pianos, harps and other instruments – not to mention medical treatment and the company of other retired musicians. What’s more, La Scala, a historic opera house in Milan, sends singers to the community several times a year.
“The majority of our clients are not in very bad economic condition, but wish to continue to play, and be involved with, music,” Robert Ruozi, president of the Giuseppe Verdi Foundation, told The New York Times. “First, they need music. 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.”
Beyond Retired Musicians
More recently, Casa Verdi has taken an intergenerational approach, residing in rooms to music students alongside retired musicians.
Today, 16 students live there. They pay low rent, and eat with the retired musicians.
And the arrangement proves mutually beneficial. Music students have the opportunity to learn from seasoned veterans, and the retired musicians enjoy the company of those who share their love of music.
“We speak about the music, the life, the memories,” said resident and former conductor Armando Gatto, 89. “It’s lovely to be in this company.”