Verdi Under the Stars

In 1996 a terrible flash-flood devastated large areas of the Apuan Alps. In particular two borghi, Fornovolasco and Cardoso (the one in Massa Rosa province, not the one in Garfagnana), were seriously damaged and, what is worst, caused fourteen deaths.

To raise funds for and to declare solidarity with the affected inhabitants Maestro Luigi Roni, a bass singer of international repute from Calomini, gave some recitals. These were the foundation of the “Serchio delle Muse” festival which, since 2002, and still under the artistic direction of Maestro Roni, has graced this valley with its programme of largely free concerts, recitals and poetry readings in its most beautiful locations: from ancient monasteries, to remote chapels and even to mountain refuges and all, generally, in the open-air.

2013 celebrates (if you didn’t know already you must be living in a remote part of Papua New Guinea) the bicentenary of the birth of those two pillars of the operatic repertoire, Verdi and Wagner. La Scala was slapped on the wrist for kicking off the festivities with Lohengrin at the end of last year but, certainly, Verdi has now come to the fore with many of his amazing works being performed this year throughout the peninsula.

The evening at Gallicano, part of the “Serchio delle muse festival”, was one of these celebrations: a concert of some of the “Swan of Busseto’s” most memorable scenas, including both familiar and unfamiliar pieces. The programme and singers were as follows:


I didn’t know any of the singers but, with its over-riding themes of passionate, unrequited love, bloodthirsty vengeance and filial affection, opera flows in the blood of Italians, and nothing but the best of voices could have pleased the audience. And the singers were stunning, all of them! The performances could not have been faulted on any account, with my personal favourites being the extracts from Don Carlo, Luisa Miller and Rigoletto.

The chorus, directed by Stefano Visconti, from the Festival Puccini of Torre del Lago was also superb and, in particular, their rendition of “patria oppressa” from that early masterpiece, Macbeth, was spellbinding.

Of course, good singers and a fine chorus are only part of the ingredients for a great evening: the pianist Roberto Baralli made us forget that, officially, these pieces should have an orchestra, by impregnating his instrument with every conceivable kind of tone-colour and indulging in a piquant interaction with his marvellous singers. But, for me, what made the evening an articulate one, uniting what could have been a disparate medley of unrelated items, was the enchanting presentation by Debora Pioli who, shamefully, was not mentioned either in the series leaflet or in the evening’s performance programme.

Debora, writer, journalist, musician, theatrical collaborator and lots more besides, has an absolute way in getting one to enter into the heart of the event: her seermingly extempore but deeply considered comments about the passions which inspired Verdi, his musical treatment of men and women, the psyches of his characters, really got us to understand more fully the language of his masterpieces.

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After Debora’s thanks to all those who contributed to a memorable evening it was, therefore, not surprising that she got the final plaudit from the Maestros themselves.

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How wonderful it is to appreciate opera in the balmy evening of an Italian square at the height of summer, with accompaniment of cicadas and reflections of moonbeam, in the company of locals, for whom opera is not some form of elitist pastime (“an exotic and irrational entertainment” as Doctor Johnson famously defined it) but a genuine embodiment of themes and passions which can stir the heart of every true-born native here, and throughout the world.

You can still enjoy these passions as the festival events continue throughout the summer. Click on to get the full programme.


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