The main square in the center of Busseto is of course called Piazza Verdi.
On the north side of the square is the citadel or “Rocca”, which was once the castle of the Pallavicino family. They started building it in the 13th century, but it has been changed many times since then. The way it looks now is how it was redesigned in the second half of the 19th century, in Verdi’s lifetime. The citadel now holds municipal offices, the tourist information office and the Teatro Verdi.
In front of the citadel is a bronze monument to Verdi by the sculptor Luigi Secchi, which was put up in 1913, a century after Verdi’s birth.
On the west side of the square is a colonnaded brick building with the Caffe Centrale, a popular meeting place for local residents and others within cycling distance.
When I was in Busseto in 2008 they were still advertising a Verdi Festival that had taken place half a year earlier.
In the right wing of the citadel, next to the tourist information office, is a 300-seat theater known as Teatro Verdi, which was built in the years between 1856 and 1868.
The theater was inaugurated on 15 August 1868, in Verdi’s absence, with performances of two of his operas, Un ballo in maschera (A masked ball) and Rigoletto. The ladies all had to wear green dresses for this occasion, and the men had to wear green ties, because verdi in Italian is the plural form of the adjective verde, meaning green.
Verdi’s absence at the inauguration was no coincidence. He originally opposed the construction of the theater, saying it would be “too expensive and useless in the future.” Although he later donated a large sum of money for the construction and even owned one of the boxes, he never once set foot in this theater and made a point of being out of town whenever one of his operas was performed there, so as not to be bothered by people wanting to visit him.
Visits or guided tours of the theater are possible most mornings and afternoons at various times — ask next door at the tourist information office.
The Teatro Verdi was built in the notorious “Italian” style, with many of the seats located in “boxes” offering little or no view of the stage, sort of like a miniature Teatro alla Scala.
Purely by chance I was in Busseto on an evening when a local chorus, the Coro Lirico Bresciano Giuseppe Verdi, was giving a free concert at the Teatro Verdi, under the auspices of the cultural association Amici di Verdi (Friends of Verdi).
There was hardly any advertising for this concert, in fact I think they were doing it mainly for their friends and relatives, but I found out about it that afternoon from the custodian of Verdi’s birth house in Roncole, who mentioned it in the middle of a long rapid-fire monologue in Italian. (I was really proud about that. Maybe my Italian listening comprehension isn’t so bad, after all.)
This seems to be mainly an amateur chorus, but some of the members have sung in professional theater choruses in the past, and they have a professional director and pianist.
There were ten opera excerpts on the program, seven by Verdi, one by Mascagni, one by Bellini and one by Boito. My impression was that they did very well with the Verdi repertoire, which as local residents they had no doubt been singing all their lives, but that they got a bit shaky with the works of the other composers, especially with the immensely challenging Salve regina from the end of Boito’s opera Mefistofele.
For their first encore they sang Verdi’s most famous and popular choral piece, Va Pensiero from Nabucco. And for their second encore they did something very brave by repeating part of Boito’s Salve regina, to prove they could do it better than the first time. (And the second time really was better than the first.)
My photos in this post are from 2008. I revised the text in 2017.