Italian opera, a show on and off stage

Italian opera - Learning Italy

Italian Opera: where is the real show behind the scenes or on stage?

In about 350 years of its life the Italian opera is a mine of anecdotes, secret stories and manias, let’s discover some of them!

Comparing to other forms of performing arts, we do not exactly when and why the Italian Opera was born. It is true that the first attempts go back to the last fourth of the 16th century and especially the Intermedi della Pellegrina – 1589  (a very interesting article is Music of the Gods: Solo Song and effetti meravigliosi in the Interluded for La Pellegrina by Nina Treadwell), the very first example of what is considered an Italian Opera was Dafne  (1594) written by Ottavio Rinuccini and music composed by Jacopo Corsi e Jacopo Peri and immeditaley after Euridice  – 1600 by Giulio Caccini.

In synthesis what was totally new in these shows:

  • the alternation between recitative and song;
  • the search for the correspondence between word and harmony;
  • the ample space given to the choir;
  • the importance of the actorial gesture.
Italian opera theater - Learning Italy

The Italian opera conquers the European courts

Since then the Italian opera becomes famous all over Europe and the Emperor, kings, and Lords of huge or small States want to have in their courts famous composers as well as musicians and singers. They are ready to support financially them no matter of the costs to show how rich they are and what they can offer to their own courtesans and special guests. It is easy to understand that this phenomenon unleashes a real struggle between composers, musicians and singers that will not calm down even when the Italian opera will become a public and paid show.

For a detailed history of Italian Opera click here.

Here are some stories that are handed down on the Opera

The real content of this short article would like to treat about all that has been told and happened behind the scenes of Italian opera that is really full of these stories that are handed down from one fan to another one.

The curse of Macbeth

Italian opera - Macbeth - Learning Italy

Giuseppe Verdi considered Shakespeare his spiritual father (often he quotes Shakespeare “my dad”) on the other hand the Scottish drama cannot be even named in an English theater. Verdi composed Macbeth in 1847 and since then all the first representations of this magnificent example of Italian opera have some problems. In the ‘80s in Stockholm everything was really ready and there were not possibilities of any kind of mistakes but when the King arrived the Italian Orchestra Director realized that he had forgotten to rehearsal the Swedish National Anthem that he absolutely ignored! Seconds of drama while the King was standing up waiting. The first violin immediately reacted and, without being noticed, directed the orchestra while the Director pretended to do so. Problem fixed!

The Tosca’s mattress

Italian opera - Tosca - Learning Italy

In the last scene of this masterpiece of the Italian opera by Giacomo Puccini, Tosca commits suicide by throwing herself from Castel Sant’Angelo. All the Soprano are very carefully in arranging on their own the mattress and usually someone of their trust watches the mattress so that no one can move it. This is an old tradition as the second soprano could cause an accident moving the mattress to substitute the first singer. In the ‘60 at the Teatro dell’Opera di Roma, the singer who was interpreting Tosca was not in a very great vocal form. Probably the mattress was too high or the wall too short but, after she had thrown herself, her head appeared two or three times. At that point someone shouted from the gallery: “shoot her”! Obviously they did not!

The Diva Maria Callas 

Italian opera - Maria Callas - Learning Italy

We cannot and do not want to avoid to talk on Maria Callas, the Italian opera diva of the 20th Century still surrounded by millions of fans’ love. There are thousand and thousand anecdotes of her. When in Tosca Tito Gobbi  saved her because she hadn’t noticed that the wig was on fire. When – always performing in Tosca – she started a long distance duel with Renata Tebaldi, her great rival, for the best interpretation of “Vissi d’arte”. We would like to remember that she was used to completely divide her being a woman from her being a singer and when someone asked her “How are you, madame?”,  she was use to answer: “Callas is fine, Maria is tired”.

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