Musicians' rest home raises funds to buy Giuseppe Verdi's letters to Italian count

Associated Press

A home for retired musicians created by composer Giuseppe Verdi secured a cache of his joking and sometimes off-color correspondence with an Italian count for the bargain price of 120,000 euros ($132,000), officials said Wednesday.

The 82 letters failed to sell at auction last year, despite international interest, because of restrictions by the Culture Ministry that the buyer must be an Italian resident.

Continue Reading Below

That excluded the many foreign universities that expressed interest, according to the Bolaffi auction house handling the sale. But it allowed the Giuseppe Verdi Foundation Rest Home for Musicians, where the composer and his wife are buried, the chance to get in the picture.

Short of cash, the rest home negotiated down the price down from the 150,000-euro original starting bid, and raised the entire sum in five months through the Italian crowdsourcing site Smartika, said Roberto Ruozi, president of the retirement home.

The auction house said the letters may have fetched as much as 250,000 euros had an open, international auction been possible.

Ruozi called the letters "a rich testimony of Verdi's life and work."

While the money transfer has been made, the letters won't be delivered until the sale receives clearance by culture officials, Ruozi said.

The 82 letters are among some 200 exchanged between Verdi and Opprandino Arrivabene, one of Verdi's closest confidants over a 50-year friendship. Some of the others are at the Beinecke Library at Yale University, but many have been lost.

The missives, which remained in the hands of Arrivabene's heirs until their sale, include references to politics of the day that provide a glimpse into the social climate of the times, while the use of swear words belied their intimacy, said Alessandro Turba, a musicologist who has read many of the letters.

The pair also at times jokingly exchanged letters under their dogs' names. Writing as his dog Blach, Verdi chastised Arrivabene for not visiting, saying "you would have been received with open paws."

"They are very confidential in tone. The conversational style is very frank," Turba said. "Verdi, the man, comes through."

The 223 pages will be made available for scholarly study, and experts expect some surprises despite the fact they were previously published, albeit in the 1930s under Italy's Fascist rule raising the specter of censorship.

"Maybe, just maybe, we can discover some omission," Turba said.