Was Verdi born in Milan?
He was a son of a tiny Italian hamlet called Le Roncole, south of Parma, but he lived and worked for most of his life in Milan. For much of that time, until his death in 1901, Verdi lived and composed in a suite at the Albergo di Milano, now the five-star Grand Hotel et de Milan, via Manzoni 29, on the edge of the fashion district.
I bet that suite's not there any more.
Yes it is. And you don't need to stay in it, or even at the hotel, to take a look.
What, you just rock up at reception and ask to see it?
You've got the hang of this. Sumptuous suite No 105 is laid out very much as Verdi left it. Yellow silk wallpaper lines the walls, which are hung with large canvases; much of the furniture is typical rococo, and of particular note is the very desk where Verdi composed most of his great scores.
Did Verdi compose anything specifically about Milan?
Why yes, he did. For years Lombardy fell under Austrian rule, which the Milanese hated. Verdi found a musical outlet for this hostility in many of his early operas, such as The Lombards of the First Crusade (1843) and The Battle of Legnano (1849).
Where can I find Verdi memorabilia?
Even if you don't make the Grand Hotel et de Milan your Milanese home, you can still purchase their Verdi-themed CD, which includes practically all of the maestro's greatest hits including the overture from Nabucco, "Sempre libera" from La traviata and "Caro nome" from Rigoletto.
Verdi was quite big news in Milan, wasn't he?
You're catching on slowly, but I don't think you're getting the full score here. The "Va, pensiero" chorus from Nabucco became the anthem of the struggle for Italian independence from Austria and when independence was achieved, Verdi's thrilling music came to symbolise the life and breath of a new nation and is still acknowledged as the great achievement of a glorious art form.
If I want to hear some live Verdi music, where should I go?
I'm assuming even you know that La Scala is the world's most famous opera house. It's where Verdi premiered most of his operas, and no trip to Milan is complete with a little outing to the opera. And outing it really is. La Scala is currently being refurbished and is expected to reopen some time in 2004, so you have to schlep your way to the city's outskirts and the modern auditorium, Teatro degli Arcimboldi. Most La Scala seasons include works by the maestro, but whatever the opera, the singing and staging are awesome, and the people-watching during the interval is almost as theatrical as what is happening on stage. Think Gucci-shaded glitterati, dressed from head to toe in couture, rubbing shoulders with briefcase-clutching businessmen.
I bet it costs an arm and a leg – and aren't tickets like gold dust?
Not necessarily. It's best to book your tickets before you leave for Italy. Try Liaisons Abroad (020-7376 4020; www.liaisonsabroad.com), which can usually book tickets from £75 upwards.
And after the opera, what then?
A post-opera dinner at the Don Carlos restaurant in the Grand Hotel et de Milan is de rigueur. It is hung with posters, sketches of set designs, pictures and photographs from operas dating as far back as Nabucco – and the cuisine is to die for. Maria Callas and Aristotle Onassis dined here often after the diva's performances.
I'm a bit worn out with all this Verdi worship? What else is there to do?
Well apart from seeing Leonardo's Last Supper, I'd recommend large daily dosages of retail therapy, as this is Fashion Central of the universe.
And if I want to pay my last respects to the maestro, where should I go?
Compose yourself and pay homage at his final resting place, Casa di Riposo per Musicisti (that's the Home for Retired Musicians to you), at Piazza Buonarroti 29. Here you can descend to the crypt and see Guiseppe's tomb, where he is buried alongside his wife, Giuseppina Strepponi. Expect to hear crescendos drifting across the courtyard as retired sopranos and tenors run through a few scales. This will make it a truly divine event. Verdi founded the home for musicians himself and it is housed in a palazzo designed by Camillo Boito. The crypt is open daily from 10am to 12 noon and 2.30pm to 5pm and admission is free (00 39 02 499 6009). The tomb has attractive mosaic decorations by Ludovico Pogliaghi, and the statue of the composer is not to be missed, presiding over the piazza outside. At Verdi's funeral, 300,000 people sang in the streets as the coffin of the grand old man of Italian opera reached its final resting place.
Okay, so how do I get there?
If you want to stay in one of Milan's finest hotels, Exclusive Italy (01892 619650; www.exclusiveworldwide.com) offers a two-night b&b break at the Four Seasons Hotel from £673 per person, including return flights with British Airways and private car transfers.
To stay alla Verdi at the Grand Hotel et de Milan (00 39 0272 3141; www.grandhoteletdemilan.it) will cost €419 (£298) per night from Friday to Sunday for b&b in a double room, based on two sharing.
Alitalia (0870 544 8259; www.alitalia.co.uk) flies from London to Milan Malpensa and Milan Linate from £84. BA (0845 7733 3377; www.ba.com) offers return flights from Heathrow to Milan Linate from £88.
Bridge Travel (0870 191 7287; www.bridge-travel.co.uk) is offering two nights at the Cervo Hotel from £269 per person,based on two sharing, including return flights from Heathrow and b&b.
For further information contact the Italian State Tourist Board (020-7408 1254; www.enit.it).Reuse content