Italy defends the inscription of the opera in the immaterial heritage of Unesco

Monteverdi, Verdi, Puccini… Rome has submitted an application for recognition of Italian opera by the United Nations.

Of Scarlatti to Verdithe great Italian opera arias are sung all over the world, even if it is indeed in the setting of the peninsula that this lyrical art was born and flourished, today a candidate for the heritage of the Unesco. “Opera was born in Italy”recalls the Frenchman Stephane Lissnerdirector since 2020 of San Carlo Theater of Naples, one of the oldest opera houses still in operation.

After various experiences of musical theater in the XVIand century, the opera finally saw the light of day around 1600 in Florence, where an academy is founded promoting an innovative association of sung text and music. The first great composer of operas is also Italian: Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643). And that’s just the beginning. “If you look at the history of opera in the 18and century, there were 400 creations during this century” in Naples alone, then capital of a kingdom ruled by the Bourbons, he marveled during an interview with AFP under the golds of the royal box of “his” theater.

But why would Italian opera be more legitimate to enter the intangible heritage of humanity than its French or German counterparts? For Stéphane Lissner, who also directed the prestigious Milan Scala and theParis Operathe answer is beyond doubt: “the way of singing with this Italian language unquestionably provokes, whether we agree or not, the greatest emotion among opera lovers”. This state of mind is also reflected in the perfectly proportioned architecture of the San Carlofar from the very Second Empire bombast of theOpera-Garnier in Paris. The great hall, the beating heart of Naples, exudes a scent of sensual intimacy: red velvet armchairs, shimmering lights, refined gilding, boxes adorned with mirrors…

In his dressing room at the San Carlo, the Italian baritone Gabriele Viviani interrupts his vocalizations before a performance of Tosca of Puccini to defend the colors of his country: “Without wanting to take anything away from French or German composers (…) I think that Italian singing has this little something extra that is sensitivity in the expression of emotions”. A few minutes later, the public rushes into the foyer before taking their seats for the start of the show.

In the crowd, an elegant spectator in a kimono concentrates the gaze: Sumiko, a middle-aged Japanese woman who lives in New York, came to Naples especially for the show. Italian opera’s candidacy for theUnesco enthusiasm: “The emotions that these composers transmit to us are universal, it goes beyond history and borders”.

For the Minister of Culture Dario Franceschiniwith this application decided at the end of March and which will be examined by Unesco at the end of the year, “Italy seeks recognition of one of its most authentic and original cultural expressions”. The Minister then did not fail to evoke the poignant images from Ukraine showing the choir of theodessa opera in the street under the Ukrainian flag and singing March 13 the air Go, thinkerextract of Nabuco by Verdi. He had seen “one more proof that Italian lyrical singing is an integral part of the cultural heritage of humanity, which resorts to it in the darkest hours to find light, strength and beauty”.

the Go, thinkerwhich was also the anthem of Italian patriots under the Austrian yoke in the 19th century.and century, illustrates well the popular adherence to this form of art: “In the 19th century when you arrived in any Italian city the whole population sang opera tunes, it was normal!” observed Stephane Lissner. “Italy is apart, the Italian theaters are apart (…) and if you go to the villages, I’m not even talking about cities, you find small theaters!”. The peninsula has no less than sixty opera houses, a world record.

The tenor Luciano Pavarotti (1935-2007) also illustrates Italy’s carnal relationship with this art: during his lifetime, this giant was venerated as a true rock star, in the same way as singers of popular music. Here, lyrical music “isn’t just for the elite”underlines Stéphane Lissner, regretting however that the opera has “left behind the popular public, which is no longer able to pay certain ticket prices”. A trend that the San Carlo is also trying to curb by reserving places at reduced prices for young audiences.

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Italy defends the inscription of the opera in the immaterial heritage of Unesco


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