Sunday, 20 January 2019


Giuseppe Verdi strolls down the Piazza della Scala, reading the news, 1900
As we approach the 118th anniversary of the death of 19th century Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi, observed January 27th, the surviving descendants of the beloved icon residing on the grounds of his former home in Parma (the “Villa Verdi”) will find themselves feeling significantly less full – if not in spirit, in endowment – after failed attempts to reclaim hundreds of letters authored by the composer from the National Institute of Veridian Studies following it's digitization of the documents into the Parma State Archives left the family without the historic relics for the first time in over a century.

The presence of hitherto unknown correspondence in the hand of Verdi in the composer's former home, (located in the village of Sant'Agata near Piacenza, some 45 miles south of Milan) was first announced in the international press in the early Spring 2017. The documents, which date from 1850 to the year of Verdi's death in 1901, had formerly lay encased in a late 19th century trunk built by Marshall Field & Co. in Chicago for some 116 years at the location, which has remained until present day the Carrara-Verdi family home. Both trunk and its contents had been transferred at the start of the year (January 10) to the Parma State Archive to be digitized under the auspices of a pro tempore exchange.

But some three months later, and with no return of the memorabilia on the horizon, the good-faith exchange would turn sour, and with present villa owner and great-great grandson to the composer, Angiolo Carrara Verdi citing the transfer as little more than an unjustified “raid” by the Italian government.

Carrara-Verdi had inherited the villa - and all of the property within it - through the family line of Giuseppe's late cousin, Maria Filomena Verdi, who the composer and his opera-singer wife, Giuseppina Strepponi had raised as a daughter. Giuseppe, who died without any (direct) surviving children of his own (two children - a daughter and a son - had died in infancy) had left the vast bulk of his estate to Maria Filomena. Verdi's adopted kin would go on to marry one Alberto Carrara - the son of the composer's notary, Angiolo. The property, and all of Verdi's possessions contained within, have remained in the family ever since.

The "Villa Verdi" - Verdi's forever home at Sant'Agata.
Verdi moved into the residence in 1851 with
then-lover Giuseppina Strepponi. The couple would
wed eight years later and go on to raise Giuseppe's young
cousin Maria Filomena as their daughter. Verdi would
bequeath the villa to his adoptive daughter in his will,
dated 14 May, 1900. It has remained in the family ever
since, in conjunction with the Carrara family, descendants
of Filomena's husband (and son to Giuseppe's notary),
Alberto Carrara. Its present owner is Angiolo Carrara-
Verdi, the great-great grandson of Giuseppe.[1]
By April, a full blown press conference was organized in Rome at the Headquarters of the Central Institute for Audio and Audiovisual Assets led by the General Director for the Archives of Ministry of Cultural Heritage Gino Famiglietti, in which accusations of withholding “missing” letters were levied against the Carrara-Verdi family.

Furthermore, the heirs were branded as having been negligible in their conservation efforts of the letters by exposing them to unsuitable levels of environmental moisture, causing damage due to a damp atmosphere. Famiglietti informed the press that a six month “restoration” of “previously unusable” documents would be required for preservation's sake due to extensive damage before digitization of the material could even commence – a move that will ensure the full breadth of the correspondence will be made readily available for scholars.

Famiglietti emphasized that the delivery of the documents by the heirs had been conducted consensually with the Ministry from Angiolo Carrara Verdi, however it should be noted that had the composer's heirs not been compliant, there had been reason to believe a lawful, “coercive delivery” would have been enforced by the ministry in its efforts to “verify the preservation and consistency of archival assets, even if in possession of private individuals.”

The debacle resulted in a parliamentary dispute – between villa-adjacent Piacenza and Parma, with Piancenza Parliamentarian Tommaso Foti proposing a resolution (n. 5301 in the Regional Council of Emilia-Romagna) for the return of the documents following their digitization – which passed in September 2017. Foti argued the family villa was “subject to the constraints of the Ministry of Cultural Heritage which has enshrined the inseparability of the aforementioned Villa and the assets contained therein."

That reminder proved anything but helpful as inspectors of the Archival and Bibliographic Superintendency of Emilia-Romagna conducted their own survey of the villa grounds on 7 May 2018 only to substantiate claims of an inadequate conservation of the “Carteggi Verdiani” (Letters of Verdi) and ordered the mandatory transfer of the documents to Parma.

The Undersecretary of State for Cultural Assets and Activities, Gianluca Vacca seemed reluctant to criticize the family, citing the mandatory transfer and indefinite hold of the assets in Parma as an exercise in overabundant caution, whilst simultaneously reporting on damning inadequacies at Villa Verdi, including a persistent issue in regard to a lack of security on the grounds. Vacca noted that some documents had been stolen from the premises unbeknownst to the Carrera-Verdi family, and that the aging relic lacked a suitable fire-extinguishing system. That same month the General Directorate “gave immediate provisions for the purpose of coercive custody of the 66 archival units present at Villa Verdi.”

Vacca's statement went on to read:

“[the transfer of the letters to Parma] are not meant to persecute the family, but rather it is opportune to reiterate that this precautionary measure, fully justified by the conditions found during the inspection, [which] was put in place with the objective to guarantee the security and proper preservation of Verdi's documents, and not with a punitive intent towards the Carrara-Verdi heirs; without prejudice to the fact that, as mentioned above, they have on several occasions and in various forms disregarded the conservation, inventory and consultation obligations to which owners, owners or holders of cultural assets are kept ...

it should be added that the physical characteristics of the archival materials require specific microclimatic conditions for conservation purposes, and conditions [in] both the rooms of Villa Verdi, and the furnishings in which the documentation was kept could not in any way guarantee the desired [intent] to preserve Verdi's documentation in the rooms... the villa can not be led to the extreme consequence of jeopardizing the material integrity and the survival of the letters.”

What is perhaps most ironic is a directive rumored to be scrawled on one of the hitherto unpublished letters in the hand of Verdi: “Abbruciate tutte queste carte!” (Burn these letters!) How little did the composer know that the very same letters he once ordered destroyed after his demise (yet preserved against his wishes) would ignite a fire that would continue to burn well over a century after his death.

The present documents are likely to be housed at the Palatine Library of Parma, to be added to correspondence previously acquired by the Ministry through London auctioneer Sotheby's.

This marks the first time in the Villa's history as a museum that conditions related to conservation has been challenged.

More on this story at @ piacenzaonline (in Italian)

In happier news (for scholars, perhaps not as much for Carrara-Verdi) it has recently been announced that come this January 29, 2019, a much anticipated reveal of some never-before seen 5434 autograph pages of Verdi – which include “changes, corrections and uncertainties” written in the composers hand to his own scores, in addition to notes, each separated into envelopes housed in the large trunk – will be presented in the form of a yearbook by compiler Sandro Carrelletto of the Institute of Veridian Studies. The documents contained within are invaluable to scholars of the composer as they detail the intimacies of Verdi's composition process, and offer never-before heard versions of famous operas such as Falstaff, Ballo in Maschera; and include modification, notes and on-the-fly corrections from all of the composers' masterpieces, from La Traviata to Rigoletto, Aida to Don Carlos, and even Luisa Miller to his choral collective Quattro pezzi sacri.

The reveal comes after a three-year long petition by esteemed maestri (from the likes of Daniel Barenboim, Zubin Mehta, Sir Simon Rattle, Riccardo Chailly, Daniele Gatti, Antonio Pappano, Salvatore Accardo and Plácido Domingo) to the Minister of Cultural Heritage and to the President of the Republic to make this indispensable memorabilia accessible.

More on this story @ Il Piacenza (in Italian)

Listen below to a stunning performance of Verdi's seldom heard Quattro pezzi sacri (Four Sacred Works), conducted and with an introduction by maestro Antonio Pappano. The Orchestra and Chorus of the Academy of Santa Cecilia, Rome perform at the 2013 Proms.

[1] Verdi's will included numerous charitable bequests, including to his former alma mater, the Monte di Pietà in Bussetto, which had famously presented the composer with a grant that had enabled him to study under Maestro Vincenzo Lavigna in Milan in 1832 through to 1836; the rights to his operas to Verdi's Retirement home for destitute musicians, the Casa di Riposo; farm lands to several aunts and uncles, and for the lion's share of his estate - the villa at Sant'Agata and all of his possessions contained within - went to Maria Filomena.

Verdi's instructions were explicit:

"I oblige my heir to maintain the garden and my house in Sant'Agata in their present state, asking her to maintain in their present state all the meadows that surround the garden."

The composer concluded his will with a bequest of 1000 lire, to be "distributed to the poor of the village of Sant'Agata."

Bonus video: 

Watch below an exclusive interview with Carrara-Verdi presented by Opera Online in which the famous composer's present heir discusses the villa and the family's inheritance/preservation of the property and Verdi's possessions, with a bonus tour of the estate. In French and Italian, with incomplete English subtitles. Jump to 1:08 for discussion on the villa.


1 comment:

  1. Thank you for reporting the FULL story!!