SHARE
COPY LINK

CULTURE

Why did Italy choose opera over espresso in its bid for Unesco status?

Italy has put another pillar of national culture forward for inclusion on the UN agency's list of intangible global heritage - but it's not the art of making coffee, as many had hoped.

Why did Italy choose opera over espresso in its bid for Unesco status?
A shot of dark, velvety coffee is more than just a quick caffeine hit: Italy's espresso is a prized social and cultural ritual the country considers a national heritage worthy of Unesco status. Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP

Music or coffee? This was essentially the tough choice Italy’s National Committee for Unesco was faced with when deciding which treasured Italian art form to recommend for recognition this year.

In the end, the committee on Monday chose to put forward the art of opera singing as the country’s candidate – meaning the art of making espresso coffee will not be considered for addition to the list alongside Neapolitan pizza-making after all.

On announcing the decision, the committee did not give any reason for its selection though said the much-discussed and somewhat controversial application for the candidacy of espresso coffee had been “highly appreciated”.

“With the candidacy of the Italian opera to the world’s intangible heritage, Italy is aiming to get recognition for one of its most authentic and original cultural expressions,” said culture minister Dario Franceschini after the committee’s decision.

“Italian opera singing is an integral part of the world’s cultural patrimony, which provides light, strength and beauty in the darkest hours”.

A performance of Puccini’s 1900 opera ‘Tosca’ at the Teatro San Carlo in Naples. Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP.

The announcement came as a boost for those working in opera houses and theatres across Italy after the Italian arts an cultural sector was hit hard by pandemic-related closures.

Italy has around 60 opera houses – the most in the world.

“Opera was born in Italy,” said Stephane Lissner, the French director of the San Carlo theatre in Naples, which opened in 1737 and claims to be the world’s oldest opera house.

“In the 19th century, when you arrived in any Italian town, the entire population sang opera arias. It was normal,” he told AFP.

Compared to France or Germany, he said: “Italy is different, Italian theatres are different… and if you go into the villages, they’re not even towns, you find small theatres.”

In Italy, lyrical music “is not just reserved for the elite”, he added, although he said “the majority of the public cannot pay certain ticket prices and has been abandoned”, which he said was a “huge error”.

In contrast, Italian coffee is an everyday pleasure enjoyed by the majority of the population – and the price of an espresso is kept below the symbolic threshold of one euro at most local bars due to the widespread belief that the drink should be  accessible to all.

READ ALSO: Where, when and how to drink coffee like an Italian

In fact, it’s not unusual for people to avoid bars that charge more than one euro for un caffè normale, even if that’s for a better-quality cup – with some reports of customers even complaining to the police about being charged higher prices for artisanal or specialist coffees. 

But this focus on keeping the price of Italian coffee low may be part of the reason the Unesco bid was rejected, according to food writer Nunzia Clemente in Naples.

“90-cent coffee shouldn’t make us proud,” Clemente wrote in a post on Italian food blog Dissapore.

Pointing to examples of corner-cutting by bar owners struggling to make a profit, she said “the final result is, half the time, bad to say the least”.

Unesco’s ruling on the bid for recognition of opera is due at the end of the year.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.

CRIME

Accused forger of Old Master paintings wanted in France arrested in Italy

A well-known art collector sought by French authorities for allegedly operating a sophisticated forgery network for decades turned himself in to Italian police on Friday, his lawyers said.

Accused forger of Old Master paintings wanted in France arrested in Italy

Giuliano Ruffini, 77, is accused of cheating museums, auction houses and individuals for decades with dozens of forgeries of old masters.

He turned himself in to police at Castelnovo ne’ Monti, a town in the Reggio Emilia region of central Italy, his lawyer Paul Le Fevre said in a statement.

Italian news reports said Ruffini, who lived nearby, was subsequently arrested by police.

Ruffini’s arrest comes after years of judicial efforts to extradite him back to France, following an investigation begun in 2014 and the issuance of a European arrest warrant five years later.

A Milan appeals court authorised Ruffini’s extradition to France two years ago to face charges of fraud and counterfeiting, but it was put on hold until a parallel procedure for tax evasion in Italy was complete.

Ruffini was acquitted in May of those tax evasion charges.

Well-known in the art world, Ruffini sold dozens of paintings since the 1990s by such masters as Parmigianino and El Greco to some of Europe’s most prestigious museums, including the Louvre, often through intermediaries.

His fakes also attracted wealthy buyers, such as the Prince of Liechtenstein, who bought a forged Lucas Cranach the Elder painting of Venus for seven million euros ($7.24 million).

READ ALSO:

SHOW COMMENTS