Luisa Mandelli, who played Annina in Luchino Visconti's La traviata at La Scala in 1955, is now 93 years old. Although a small role, she is remembered for her presence in this production not only because there was Carlo Maria Giulini on the podium, but the Violetta was Maria Callas. She also sang the page in EMI's recording of Rigoletto with Callas in the same year.
For the last few years she has been living in the Casa di Riposo per Musicisti in Milan, the home for retired opera singers and musicians founded by Giuseppe Verdi in 1899. Mandelli may live in a rest home but she rests little and is full of life, often present at performances and conferences at La Scala and attending musical events in the city and beyond, sometimes even participating herself. Now she has the chance to return to an important stage and play Annina once again.
Recently, in Berlin to see a Parsifal conducted by Daniel Barenboim, the Maestro asked her if she would like to participate in a few of the performances of La traviata in Berlin in December. He waved away her doubts when she said that she was a little rusty, saying that she would be an Annina “above all expectations”.
For the entire run of the Milan Expo (until the end of October) the Casa Verdi will receive visitors with guided tours (free entrance, contributions welcome).
In the crypt there is Verdi's tomb alongside that of his second wife – but the first Abigaille in Nabucco – Giuseppina Strepponi. The house contains many paintings including the famous portrait by Giovanni Boldini and the Carlo Stragliati portrait of Verdi on his death bed painted in the Grand Hotel de Milan on the day he died. There are various pieces of furniture belonging to the Maestro, the spinet he first played as a child, and memorabilia such as his top hat and pocket watch. His death mask and a cast of his ‘composing hand' are also on display. Usually there will also be music wafting in from a nearby room.
Verdi was immensely proud of the rest home that he financed. He wrote,
Among my works, the one I like best is the Home that I have had built in Milan for accommodating old singers not favoured by fortune, or who, when they were young, did not possess the virtue of saving. The poor, dear companions of my lifetime! Believe me, my friend, that Home is truly my most beautiful work.
CASA DI RIPOSO PER MUSICISTI – FONDAZIONE GIUSEPPE VERDI
piazza Buonarroti 29, Milan
Tel +39 02 4996009
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.
What a wonderful story… the fact that it is a TRUE story is incredible. What a wonderful way to reach your 90s!