Verdi lives on in Italy after 200 years

Opera maestro Giuseppe Verdi, whose bicentenary is being celebrated on Thursday, is "still alive" in Italy - especially for the inhabitants of his native village of Busseto.

Verdi lives on in Italy after 200 years
Giuseppe Verdi was born on October 10th 1813. Photo: National Gallery of Modern Art/Wikimedia Commons

The world famous composer's family home is surprisingly humble. On a crossroads, the grocery owned by his parents is on just one floor and has a handful of rooms, including a small stable.

Mario Rossin and Laura Manfrenatto, a couple who have come to visit from Rovigo near Venice, said they wanted to be present for the 200th birthday of "our Verdi", born on October 10th 1813.

"It is thanks to him that our country is known in the whole world with operas like Aida and Rigoletto," Rossin told AFP.

His partner said she was "very emotional".

"Our three sons are at the conservatory and we know how difficult it is to choose music and study when you are not from a rich family," she said.

Verdi only managed to complete his musical studies thanks to the patronage of a wealthy merchant from Busseto after his talent was noticed by his teacher at school, an organist at the local church.

The house of his rich patron, Antonio Barezzi, is in the centre of the village on what is now Giuseppe Verdi Square and is open to the public.

The young Verdi – known as "Peppino" – gave his first concert within these walls and taught piano to Barezzi's daughter, Margherita, his future wife.

In front of Barezzi's house is a statue to Verdi.

Behind it is the local theatre, which was payed in part by the composer himself. A little further is Sant'Agata, the villa where he ended up spending most of his life, which can also be visited.

The maestro could have chosen to live in Milan, the home of the La Scala opera house, once he became famous but he preferred to stay in the Emilia Romagna region where he was born.

"For us, for the inhabitants of Busseto, he was not a genius of music, Verdi was above all one of us. He is alive, still alive," said Gian Paolo Laurini, a local painter sipping an aperitif.

A group of young local residents nod in agreement.

"When we pass in front of the villa, we look to see if he has woken up. When we are on the square, we speak to his statue," Laurini said.

"When we chat at the bar, we always ask 'What would Verdi have said, what would he have done?'"

The composer of the famous arias La donna e' mobile and Va Pensiero will be honoured with a series of concerts around the world on Thursday.

Among them will be a performance of Verdi's Requiem by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra conducted by the award-winning Riccardo Muti – to be relayed on live streaming on the Internet.

"Verdi represents our musical identity card in the world," said Jader Bignamini, a 37-year-old conductor at the Teatro Regio in Parma, which is performing Verdi's opera Simon Boccanegra.

"I was born with this music, grew up with it," he told AFP, adding that what he appreciated most in the music was its "great vitality, great force".

Rossin said that Verdi's powerful political and social messages – he was one of the leading lights in the "Risorgimento" that led to the unification of Italy – are often ignored.

"His cry of rebellion would be lost today with the political class currently in charge," he said.

"No one cares about others these days. That is the great drama. We would need a Verdi today."

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Woody Allen to stage Puccini opera at Milan’s La Scala

Woody Allen, embroiled in revived sex abuse allegations, will take part in the 2018-19 season of Milan's La Scala when he directs his version of a Puccini comic opera, the head of the celebrated opera house said on Wednesday.

Woody Allen to stage Puccini opera at Milan's La Scala
Inside La Scala opera house in Milan. Photo: Giuseppe Cacace/AFP

The programme, which opens on December 7th, will include the veteran US director's riotous rendition of Gianni Schicci, set in New York's “Little Italy” in the 1930s. Allen's version, which was a hit in Los Angeles in 2015 with Spanish legend Placido Domingo in the title role, will play in Milan in July 2019.

The 82-year-old has faced growing isolation over allegations that he molested his adopted daughter Dylan Farrow as a seven-year-old in 1992, leading a string of actors to distance themselves from him.

The allegations, which have never been proved, resurfaced in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal.

READ ALSO: 'That time when…': Italian women speak up about sexual harassment

Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

“Let's not give that too much weight,” La Scala director Alexander Pereira told AFP, adding: “There's also another part” of Hollywood that still wants to work with Allen, who has directed more than 50 films, winning four Oscars and numerous accolades in Europe.

“He's 82 years old, what does all this mean?” Pereira asked. “Let's leave things as they are.”

La Scala's season will open with the 1846 Verdi opera “Attila” under the baton of Riccardo Chailly, with Russian bass Ildar Abdrazakov in the title role opposite soprano Saioa Hernandez of Spain.

“Half of the programme will be dedicated to the Italian repertoire, because opera was born here,” Pereira told a news conference.

By Celine Cornu