We are here to encourage the development of gifted young singers and to stimulate the growth of New York City's invaluable chamber opera companies. But we will not neglect the Metropolitan Opera either. Get ready for bouquets and brickbats.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015


August Ventura

Giovanni Reggioli and Victoria Cannizzo

Last night was well spent, enjoying all kinds of stimulation--intellectual, musical, and gastronomic.  The occasion was the Thirteenth Annual Savoy History Lecture, delivered by writer-filmmaker and Verdi scholar August Ventura. It was entitled "Exploring Giuseppe Verdi's Enduring Legacy: Italy's Risorgimento, Unification under the House of Savoy, and Beyond."

A wealth of fascinating details were covered, illustrated by means of film excerpts curated by Mr. Ventura and accompanied by some superlative singing by soprano Victoria Cannizzo. Ms. Cannizzo has a warm and generous sound, a gracious stage presence and fine technique. She produced a lovely legato line with plenty of resonance.

Aida, as we learned from Mr. Ventura, was commissioned for the opening of the new opera house in Cairo, but also had a veiled message for Verdi's homeland, as did many of his operas. Ms. Cannizzo  sang "O, patria mia", the heroine's song of despair over never seeing her homeland again. The final note was beautifully floated.

Ms. Cannizzo also sang "Mercè, dilette amiche" from I Vespri Siciliani, an altogether lighter aria in bolero rhythm which showed off the artist's skill with fioritura and a light-hearted style. Accompanying her on the piano was Giovanni Reggioli.

There were some highly valuable take-home points made by Mr. Ventura regarding Verdi's role in the unification of Italy. Today's opera audiences in the United States do not seem to be terribly interested in contemporary political issues, presumably because we have a high degree of freedom.  But the 19th c. Italian people lived under highly resented Austrian domination in a plethora of nation-states, scarcely aware of their common culture and language.

Verdi worked mightily with his librettists to get what he wanted--stories that would galvanize the Italian people to unify and to throw off the yoke of their colonizers. How skillful he was in slipping his messages past the Austrian censors!

Today it is easy to recognize that the chorus of the Hebrew slaves wanting freedom from their Babylonian oppressors stands in for all oppressed people. "Va pensiero" from Nabucco, one of Verdi's earliest successes, could be considered the anthem of the Risorgimento.

Similar evidence can be found in other operas such as Macbeth into which Verdi inserted a chorus of politically oppressed folk, a scene outside of Shakespeare's play.  Likewise, we can see the same theme in Attila.

Another very interesting point was made by Mr. Ventura.  In our culture, information and attitudes are disseminated electronically. The entire world was clued into the Arab Spring almost instantaneously. In 19th c. Italy this "viral spread" took place through music. People heard music in the opera house, then sang it at home and in the streets. Opera was a most effective tool for popularizing ideas inasmuch as the Austrians were in control of the press.

Verdi's humanitarian ideals have particular resonance in our own time with people all over the world chafing under the yoke of terrorism and fleeing their homelands. The human cost of war and fighting for freedom as expressed in his operas are no stranger to our own time with military men returning home damaged and troubled. Verdi indeed speaks to us today as loudly as he did to his contemporaries. If only we would listen!

This brief report can scarcely do justice to Mr. Ventura's ambitious and comprehensive lecture. We would also like to mention that the Dynastic Orders of the Royal House of Savoy are among the oldest orders of chivalry in the world, dating back a millennium. The American Foundation of Savoy Orders sustains the humanitarian goals of the House of Savoy.

(c) meche kroop

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