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Art and culture

In the footsteps of composer Giuseppe Verdi

October 19, 2022

The Italian opera composer Giuseppe Verdi spent much of his life in Milan. Here, we retrace his steps and the special spots dedicated to him.
Bust of Giuseppe Verdi

The great composer

Like many famous composers, Verdi started young. By seven, he was recognised as a gifted organist – a skill he went on to develop in his twenties when he moved to Milan to teach, conduct and write his first operas. After early success with Nabucco and I Lombardi, Verdi started his international career, conducting in London and at the Paris Opéra, before returning to Milan. He composed his best-known works, Rigoletto, Il Trovatore and La Traviata, in his ‘middle years’ (1849 – 1853), followed by triumphal Aida in 1870 and the comic Falstaff in 1893.

Chiesa di San Marco

Famed for its wonderful acoustics, San Marco has long appealed to composers, including a young Mozart. When in use, the church’s elegant frescos vibrate with the sounds of one of Milan’s most impressive organs. It was here that Verdi first conducted Messa da Requiem in 1874. This hauntingly beautiful requiem was composed in honour of his friend, writer Alessandro Manzoni, who had died a year earlier. Initially (and controversially, as they were banned from public religious rituals at the time), it was sung by women – but was soon picked up outside of places of worship thanks to its dramatic score.

2 Piazza San Marco, 20121 Milan

Detail of San Marco Church
La Scala theater full of people
Courtesy of Teatro alla Scala, Brescia Amisano

La Scala

The world’s most famous opera house had a difficult relationship with Verdi. Having premiered his first opera at La Scala, he refused to have any of his music performed here for years after the orchestra changed a score. Eventually he relented, conducting his requiem there and premiering Otello and Falstaff towards the end of his life. Watching a Verdi opera at La Scala is a Milan essential.

2 Via Filodrammatici, 20121 Milan

Casa Verdi

Whether it’s the haunting melody of a violinist or the rich tones of a baritone limbering up, music always echoes around this Neo-Gothic building. Verdi opened it as a home for retired musicians in the 1890s to ensure that age was no barrier to creativity – and it still fulfils that mission today, with a community of passionate musicians who collaborate and perform. Casa Verdi is also Verdi’s burial place. It’s open to the public, as are the museum rooms and Great Room of Honour (you’ll need to book onto a group tour), and hosts the occasional unforgettable concert.

29 Piazza Michelangelo Buonarroti, 20145 Milan

Facade of Casa Verdi
Detail of small pastries
Courtesy of Pasticceria Cova

Pasticceria Cova café

A subtle aroma of freshly brewed espresso hangs in the air at this renowned pastry shop, at which Verdi was a regular customer. Established in 1817, it’s named after its founder Antonio Cova. It retains a charming ambience thanks to herringbone flooring, chandeliers, and black-and-white pictures framed on panelled walls. Famed for rich cakes and delicate pastries, the dining room’s Mediterranean-meets-Milanese menu is perfect for lunch.

8 Via Montenapoleone, 20121 Milan

Discover the city’s churches, arches and Baroque architecture in our guide to Milan’s architects.

Header image courtesy of Teatro alla Scala, Brescia Amisano

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