Music teacher trapped in Italy during WWII

·3 min read

Feb. 28—Adelina Maria Puccini Timofeyew didn't pay much attention to politics.

In 1936, a year after graduating from the University of New Mexico with an undergraduate degree in music, she took off for Italy to study at the Conservatory of St. Cecilia in Rome, Italy, the first woman accepted into the conservatory's composition program.

That same year, Benito Mussolini's National Fascist Party formed an alliance with Germany's Adolf Hitler.

By the time Adelina realized how dangerous the situation had become, she was near starvation, could not receive wire transfers of money, was unable to get the necessary documentation to leave, and all transport in and out of the country was for the war effort.

She died in Albuquerque on Feb. 7 at age 105.

The testimony of her experiences in Italy during World War II is now available at the New Mexico Holocaust Museum in Albuquerque.

Born in 1915, Adelina was part of two families with name recognition. Her mother, Iola Bachechi, was part of the family that built the KiMo Theatre and donated land for the Bachechi Open Space. Her father, Luigi Puccini, was a newspaper reporter and cousin of Giacomo Puccini, composer of such operas as "La bohème" and "Tosca."

Although Adelina was not Jewish, she was American, and therefore "the enemy" to the government of Italy, said her daughter, Kathy Timofeyew Zimmer. "Luckily, she was an Italian-American, looked very Italian and was fluent in Italian, so she blended in nicely."

While in Rome, she lived in a convent, "which was the thing that proper young girls did at the time, and there were women from all over the world living there," Kathy said.

Before the political climate went from bad to worse, Adelina finished school and graduated from the conservatory with the title of "Maestro di Composizione," or Master of Composition.

"She wasn't quite ready to go home. She was in Rome and she wanted to hang out for a while and see Italy," Kathy said. "She should have been paying more attention, but she was an artist and was living in her own little world. She wasn't interested in politics and didn't read the newspapers."

In the meantime, fascists had infiltrated the convent and Adelina became increasingly aware of not standing out. She had to be careful of where she went, what she said and with whom she associated, said her daughter.

The government of Italy declared Rome an "open city" in 1943 to avoid destruction and violent occupation. People flocked there for safety, which only intensified the wartime food shortage.

"My mother said she began to starve to death. She said it was 'frightful to look at yourself.' There really wasn't much food, and to get any you had to put your life at risk and buy it on the black market."

At the conclusion of the war, Adelina returned to Albuquerque, but before she departed she had met a Russian refugee in Rome who was studying voice in pursuit of an opera career.

Nicolai Andrea Timofeyew got a seven-year contract to perform throughout South America. He frequently wrote to Adelina in Albuquerque and she eventually joined him on his tour. They married in South America and when they returned to the United States, he became a citizen.

Adelina took a job at the College of St. Mary of the Springs in Ohio, and also conducted the St. Mary's choir and the Notre Dame Men's Choir. Nicolai continued to perform. With the birth of daughter Kathy, they returned to Albuquerque to be closer to her family.

Adelina taught music at UNM and her husband performed and gave private singing lessons until he suffered a massive stroke in the late 1960s. He died in 1982. Adelina continued to devote her time to teaching, composing, coaching students for concerts and music competitions, and associations with New Mexico and national musicians' organizations.