Verdi and the Land
Verdi felt a particularly strong attachment to the area where he was born. His father, Carlo, a small landowner, had used the proceeds of the sale of some land to buy a modest tavern, where he sold wine, spirits, coffee, sugar and other basic foodstuffs, at Roncole di Busseto. In his formative years and before his career was fully consolidated Verdi had always felt a strong attraction for the “city” and he would move to Milan, then later to Paris and travel widely in Europe. But when success had been achieved, this most famous Italian composer returned to Busseto and purchased an estate, Sant’Agata’ at Villanova sull’Arda in the province of Piacenza on 8 May 1848.
In May 1851 he took possession of the house and began renovation work. He also took great interest in the cultivation and management of the estate. Villa Sant’Agata became his favourite residence and it was here that he spent most of his time and composed his great masterpieces such as Rigoletto and Traviata.
At St Agata, where he lived with Giuseppina Strepponi, there were 13 servants, including cooks that have been chosen with particular care, following the advice of friends and the desire to alternate international cooking with local regional specialities. Verdi was especially proud of the risotto alla Milanese which he would prepare himself, and he also thoroughly enjoyed the pasta that he had his Neapolitan friend, De Sanctis send him. Other favourites included oysters and local “salumi”, the particular cured meats which are a speciality of the Emilia region. Family life was simple and even somewhat frugal. Dinner was served at five o’clock and might only consist of two eggs, and then, it was off to bed early.
With the estate Verdi was able to dedicate himself to his great passion for agriculture and rearing livestock. He would often boast about his simple country origins which became a strong ingredient in the image of the “artist-farmer” that he liked so much to cultivate. He was well-informed when it came to agricultural techniques and his library contained Lezioni di agricoltura in quattro volumi – “Agricultural lessons in four volumes”. And so we can see that the great composer had another side to his personality: that of the landowner. A landowner who rose at dawn with the sun in order to manage work on the land; a man who loved his dogs; who bred horses, cows, sheep and when he was away from his property would write to his estate manager to discuss the details of how work was progressing on the irrigation canals.