Verdi: A Philanthropic Maestro

Casa-di-RiposoLast week I posted a piece about my recent visit to the Royal Opera House to see a rather passé production of Verdi’s ‘Rigoletto’. During the interval I recalled that last year my father and I had visited the Casa di Riposo per Musicisti in Milan. Also known as Casa Verdi, this is a home for retired opera singers and musicians, and it was set up by Verdi in 1896. It is also the place where both Verdi and his wife, the opera soprano Giuseppina, are buried.

Verdi commissioned this building to be a home for those musical people who, one way or another, had fallen on hard times during their latter years, often occurring when they could no longer perform for a living.

verdi's spinet
There is a small museum within the building displaying various paintings and objects that belonged to Verdi such as this spinet.

The home was open to residents on 10th October 1902 a couple of years after Verdi’s death and it was supported by bequeathed funds from the royalties received from Verdi’s operas. However, these royalties expired in the 1950s and the home is run now on income from Verdi’s property investments, donations and contributions from the residents. The residents, or guests, as Verdi preferred them to be known, each have their own room and some have views that overlook the inner courtyard, pictured above in the top photograph. The windows are those in the wings to the left and right side of the central complex which contains the communal rooms.

verdi's piano
Verdi’s grand piano still played by some of the guests of the Casa di Riposo.

A recent (3 January 2018) social piece in the Financial Times written by Hannah Roberts interviews one of the guests, the 95 year old opera singer, Luisa Mandelli. From the piece I read that the current average age of guests is 89 years old. And, when I visited, we were shown the small but elegant concert hall where the guests could get together either to perform, or to listen to music, and then share musical discussions.

Concert-HallFor the guests at Casa Verdi keeping up with their musical interests is seen as very important for maintaining robust cognitive abilities as well as offering a good quality of life. Verdi is recorded as saying that he thought his fame would only last about 30 years after his death. How wrong he was and it isn’t just his wonderful music, but also his thoughtful philanthropy that keeps his memory alive.

Butti-Verdi-statue

Down the rabbit hole with John Tenniel

alice-in-wonderland-and-through-the-looking-glassIt’s just over one month into the New Year and the world of politics is thrashing from one extraordinary tweet to another and here in the UK a notable Member of Parliament has even suggested some of our politicians are living in Wonderland.

mad-hatters-tea-party
Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. Chapter VII, A Mad Tea Party, ‘Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland’ by Lewis Carroll. 1898 Illustration by John Tenniel (from my grandmother’s 1905 edition)

In last week’s parliamentary debate on Brexit, former Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer, Ken Clarke, expressed his views on the hopes of his Pro-Brexit colleagues saying,

“Apparently you follow the rabbit down the hole and you emerge in a wonderland where suddenly countries around the world are queuing up to give us trading advantages and access to their markets that previously we had never been able to achieve as part of the European Union,” he said. “Nice men like President Trump and President Erdoğan are just impatient to abandon their normal protectionism and give us access. No doubt there is somewhere a Hatter holding a tea party with a dormouse.”

Flicking through my Grandmother’s copy of ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’, to find the famous John Tenniel illustration of the Hatter’s Tea Party, I spotted a few more delightfully grotesque images I’d forgotten.

Interestingly, there is a tradition hailing from Suffolk, that a medieval stained glass, representation of Elizabeth Talbot, wife of John de Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk, is the inspiration for the Duchess in John Tenniel’s illustrations found in ‘Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland’.

long-melford-elizabeth-talbot

This splendid painted glass is part of the spectacular, medieval stained glass windows of Holy Trinity, Long Melford in Suffolk. However, when digging around for further information I read that some commentators have suggested Elizabeth Talbot looks more like the Queen of Hearts. I’m not sure whether it is the headdress styles or the facial expressions depicted that have prompted such comparisons.

Of course, either way it’s a nice idea, but I think, in truth, I am more in agreement with Marilyn Roberts who, writing in ‘The Mowbray Legacy’, suggests that the well-known painting, ‘Grotesque Old Woman/The Ugly Duchess’ by Quentin Massys in the National Gallery, was more likely Tenniel’s inspiration.

ugly duchess
‘The Ugly Duchess’ or ‘Grotesque Old Woman’ by Quentin Massys. Oil on oak panel 62.4 by 45.5 cm. circa 1513 National Gallery, London.

Medieval inspiration – The Huth Hours

Bluebell-beautiful-shapeWhen I was a teenager my family visited El Escorial, Spain. It was a memorable experience as apart from queuing down a marble staircase to visit the Pantheon of the Kings, it was the first time I saw a medieval illuminated manuscript. In fact, the library of El Escorial now, like many of the world’s great libraries, shares its collection online and thanks to digitisation we can all scrutinise these exquisitely decorated manuscripts.

I’ve recently been looking for inspiration from the collection of illuminated manuscripts held by the British Library. And, a Flemish Book of Hours, the Huth Hours (Add. MS 38126), created some time between 1485 and 1490 contains a selection of beautiful wild flower and bird illustrations. These strawberry flowers and bluebells caught my attention.

Repeating a simple bluebell shape, but

not entirely sure about the colours so far – will probably add a little brown.