We celebrated President's Day at the Film Forum watching a "lost and found" documentary about the birthplace of Giuseppe Verdi--Parma, renowned not only for prosciutto but for their total dedication to opera, particularly the club of 27 Verdi enthusiasts, each one "owning" one of of the master's 27 operas. After the film, the audience sang along with a group of professional singers "Va Pensiero", also known as "The Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves" from the opera Nabucco. George Hemcher played the piano and we all sang our hearts out in this ode to freedom. Who could have thought of such a celebration but film-maker August Ventura, whose film about these appassionati, entitled "27", is in the works. No wonder the show was sold out!
Last night's film, entitled "In the Mouth of the Wolf", was introduced by George Malko its Co- Producer. As you probably already know, this is an English translation of the expression opera singers use to wish one another good luck--"In bocca al lupo". The film was created over a half century ago and aired on television during an epoch when there were very few channels and cultural programs were not as rare as they are now. The film disappeared.
The film follows soprano Margherita Roberti (nee Margaret Jean Roberts from Iowa) who went to Parma to open the season as the leading lady of Luisa Miller. The 16mm film we saw was resurrected from Ms. Roberti's private collection. What a treat for the audience! We followed her through the streets of Parma and into the Teatro Regio, watching the rehearsal process and observing the trials and tribulations of the artists and the involvement of the production team.
The major issue was the fear on the part of the artists of the reaction of the loggionisti, the appassionati who crowd into the upper levels of the theater just waiting for a singer to make a mistake so they can hiss and boo. There is a warning "groan" and the severe reactions occur only on the second mistake! What a tough audience! It was pointed out that American audiences are overly kind and will give an extra big hand to a singer who misses a note and soldiers through to the end. The disapproval of these loggionisti has been known to ruin many a career and driven singers to despair.
The film was narrated rather cynically by an American man who moved to Parma because of his opera-singer wife and opened a bar; the bar was filled with men arguing about opera the way Brooklynites argue about baseball. Parma eats, drinks and sleeps opera. Everyone sings. Policemen sing while directing traffic; street-sweepers sing as they sweep; children in school want to be opera characters.
Mr. Ventura's film, the rushes of which we have seen and thrilled to, shows how this fanatic culture, although waning somewhat, is still alive and well in Parma. There is a club with 27 members, each one of which assumes the name of one of Verdi's 27 operas. Those Parmigiani take their opera very very seriously. We rarely attend filmings but rest assured when Mr. Ventura's film comes out, we will be there! Meanwhile, we can listen to Verdi's glorious output and join with him in the belief that the arts preserve our humanity against the incursions of politics.
There is one tiny factoid we wish to share with you, something we did not know. In pre-Euro days, Verdi's photo adorned the 1000 lira note in Italy. This note was worth but a dollar but Verdi's music is priceless.
(c) meche kroop