The morning bus ride passed through the small town of Le Roncole (now called Le Roncole Verdi), where Giuseppe Verdi was born and spent his first years. Following this we made our way to the town of Busseto.
When the composer was 11, he moved to Busseto to attend school. There he became close to the family of Giovanni Barezzi, whose daughter would become his first wife. He later received financial support from the town (and especially from Barezzi) for his musical studies in Milan. However, his relationship with the community soured when following his first wife’s death, he returned to Busseto and lived openly with the singer Giuseppina Strepponi, who would later become his wife. The populace shunned Strepponi and felt that Verdi was ungrateful for their earlier support. When he heard him claim that they “made” him, he declared that they should then “make another one.”
|Inside the Teatro Verdi|
Crossing the square past a large statue of the composer, the next stop was the Casa Barezzi, home of the composer’s patron Giovanni Barezzi. It was as a lodger in this house, that the composer met his first wife Margherita, who, along with their two young children, died tragically only a few years after their marriage. The house was a center of musical life in the village and is now restored to display artifacts about the composer and his relationship to the Barezzi family.
After a quick stop for coffee at the Café Centrale and time to pose for a picture in front of the statue of Verdi, next on the itinerary was the Antica Corte Pallavicina, where “Culatello di Zibello” is made. This is a delicious type of Parma ham made from the butt of the pig. Verdi was one of the past patrons of this delicacy. Among the current clients of the Antica Corte Pallavicina are Prince Charles and Prince Albert of Monaco (whose allocation could be found among the hanging meat).
|Prince Charles stash of culatello|
Although after lunch everyone could have used a nice nap, the travelers moved on to one of the most honored places by Verdi lovers, the Villa Verdi at Sant’Agata. Following his unpleasant experience living in Busseto and being a farmer at heart, the composer purchased a farm in 1848 and immediately began extensive alterations and additions. He expanded the house and the grounds so that within in few years it was the biggest employer in the area encompassing many acres. The composer and his wife lived there from 1851 through their deaths.
|Outside the Casa Verdi in Sant'Agata|
After a quick stop at the Church in Le Roncole, where Verdi first played the organ, the group headed back to the hotel after a tiring, but enlightening day.
The following day included a short tour of conductor Arturo Toscanini’s birthplace and the beautiful Teatro Farnese. The travelers then had some time to wander the streets of Parma on their own before meeting for a trip to Piacenza for a concert performance of Verdi’s I due Foscari at the Teatro Municipale.
|Teatro Municipale before the performance of Verdi's I due Foscari|
I due Foscari was performed without sets or costumes, but was sung complete with orchestra and chorus. The cast included world renowned baritone Leo Nucci, tenor Fabio Sartori, and soprano Kristin Lewis, who was known by the the Sarasota audience from her performance of Musetta in La bohème there in 2006. Since then she has made a successful career in Europe and is now based in Vienna. The conductor was Donato Renzetti.
The theater was pulsing with excitement for the performance. All the principals were exciting and easily thrilled the audience. But the palm for this performance had to go to veteran baritone Nucci, who at the age of 73 still has the goods to deliver. After his final aria the audience could not contain themselves and lept to their feet in appreciation.
|Baritone Leo Nucci takes a bow alongside conductor Donato Renzetti. Photo courtesy of Operaclick.com|
|Renowned baritone Leo Nucci (left) with Terry and Valerie Osborne|