Verdi’s Casa di Riposo and ‘Tosca’s Kiss’
Giuseppe Verdi did not write Tosca. He was offered the libretto in 1890, when approaching 80 he was finishing his final opera, the glorious Falstaff. Verdi left Tosca to the next generation, and Puccini’s opera has been a hit since its premiere in 1900-a few months before Verdi died.
Tosca’s Kiss (Il bacio di Tosca) is a film made in 1985 by Daniel Schmidt. It was produced at the Casa di Riposo per Musicisti in Milan-built by Verdi a few years before his death. The great composer considered the rest home for indigent musicians to be his greatest accomplishment. A childless widower at his death in 1901, Verdi willed the royalties from all of his operas to his casa. It was intended as a home for musicians who had few resources, except their memories and one another. As the royalties expired, private foundations took over-and every few years a different diva/o would become Commentatore. Renata Tebaldi, Luciano Pavarotti and Giulietta Simionato served in this capacity. Name artists give concerts there to this day. If they expect a bunch of grateful and humble old people, forget it. They’ll be the first to tell Mme Gheroghiu or Mr. Ma or Mr. Kaufmann that they’re out of tune, or worse!
When speaking at a CAPA luncheon on Tuesday I focused on the requested topic but digressed into mentioning Schmidt’s film. It’s had wide distribution and made a sensation out of the elderly prima donna Sara Scuderi. She was the real deal, an important artist in Italy between the world wars, as were most of her colleagues here depicted.
Age means nothing to these stars. They considered themselves still viable artists. Who was to say no? La Scuderi and Salvatore LoCapo re-enact Tosca and Rigoletto in the hallways. Then the most exquisite scene of all, the elderly soprano listening to her own voice recorded sixty years earlier. Bella! bella! she says, and she’s right.
I love this film. It’s on youtube in it s entirety, legally or not. The next time you say a prayer to Maestro Verdi, thank him for continuing to take care of generations of artists who served his works and those of many others so well.