There are several towns in Italy called Sant’ Agata, but this particular one is a small village on the Ongina stream three kilometers north of Busseto. Administratively, Sant’ Agata belongs to the municipality of Villanova sull’Arda in the province of Piacenza.
Though Giuseppe Verdi did not live here as a child (his birthplace Roncale is about six and a half kilometers away, on the other side of Busseto), some of his ancestors were natives of Sant’ Agata, where they had been tenants, small landowners and innkeepers since at least 1596.
In May of 1848 Verdi bought a small farm near this village, which he developed into his home “Villa Verdi”. This was his main residence from the spring of 1851 until the end of his life nearly half a century later.
He originally bought a small farm, had a house built on it, and then gradually bought up lots more farmland in the immediate vicinity, so that he had a substantial farming operation, which he personally supervised to a large extent.
The Carrara-Verdi family, descendents of his adopted daughter Maria Filomena Verdi (the orphaned daughter of one of his cousins), still live in Villa Verdi, but they have gradually sold off most of the surrounding farmland, so the grounds now are again roughly the size they were when Verdi first bought them.
Five rooms on the ground floor of Villa Verdi are open to the public. A visit is always in the form of a guided tour, and photography is not permitted inside the house.
The first room you visit on the tour is Giuseppina Strepponi’s room. She was a famous opera singer in the early 1840s, in fact she was the big star of the Teatro alla Scala in Milan for about three seasons, but quickly wrecked her voice by singing too much too often — like Maria Malibran a few years before, and like some singers today who have trouble saying no to enticing offers.
What I learned about Giuseppina Strepponi from visiting her room was that she was extremely religious, unlike her husband Giuseppe Verdi, and that she had numerous books in English, in addition to the ones in Italian and French.
The second room is Giuseppina Strepponi’s dressing room, which now also contains a piano that Verdi used from 1851 to 1871 and the trunk that he took to Russia when he went there for the world premiere of his opera La forza del destino (The force of destiny) at the Imperial Theater in St. Petersburg in 1862.
The third room was Verdi’s own room, where he slept and worked. It contains numerous mementos of his long career, and also the Erard piano that he used from 1871 onwards — though actually he rarely used the piano while he was composing, unlike Richard Wagner, for example. He insisted on having his room on the ground floor so he could quickly pop outside to supervise the farm work.
The fourth room was the study, where Verdi kept his accounts (he was an astute businessman). Today this room contains the vocal scores of all of Verdi’s operas, along with many photos and documents.
The fifth and last room contains the furniture from room 157 of the Milan hotel where Verdi died on January 27, 1901, at the age of 87.
Visiting hours at Villa Verdi vary according to the time of year, and since the museum is privately owned they say it is advisable to phone in advance or check the times on their website.
Admission including a guided tour costs nine Euros (as of 2017), but it is also possible to buy a combination ticket for Villa Verdi and Casa Barezzi for eleven Euros. And they offer reductions for groups, children, adults over 65 years old and holders of the Busetto Tourist Card.
The tours at Villa Verdi are mainly in Italian, but since I was the only visitor early one Sunday morning, and since I said my Italian was rather limited, my guide did her best to give me the tour in French. (She spoke no English or German.)
My photos in this post are from 2008. I revised the text in 2017.