Thursday, May 28, 2015

Sarasota Opera Visits Verdi - Busseto and Piacenza

After our special night with the “Club of the 27” everyone was tired but in a very Verdi mood. So it was exciting that the next day would take the group to the land where the composer was born and lived all of his life.

The morning bus ride passed through the small town of Le Roncole (now called Le Roncole Verdi), where Giuseppe Verdi was born and spent his first years. Following this we made our way to the town of Busseto.

When the composer was 11, he moved to Busseto to attend school. There he became close to the family of Giovanni Barezzi, whose daughter would become his first wife. He later received financial support from the town (and especially from Barezzi) for his musical studies in Milan. However, his relationship with the community soured when following his first wife’s death, he returned to Busseto and lived openly with the singer Giuseppina Strepponi, who would later become his wife. The populace shunned Strepponi and felt  that Verdi was ungrateful for their earlier support. When he heard him claim that they “made” him, he declared that they should then “make another one.”
Inside the Teatro Verdi
Welcoming the group to Busseto were four members of the Club of the 27, who accompanied us on our day’s excursions. First stop on the day’s itinerary was the Teatro Verdi. The small (300 seat), beautiful, theater was named in the composer’s honor, despite his opposition to its construction. He felt the town was too small to support the venue, and made sure he was out of town on the day it was inaugurated. Nevertheless, it is elegantly decorated, with a box that was initially reserved for Verdi (but was never used by him.)

Crossing the square past a large statue of the composer, the next stop was the Casa Barezzi, home of the composer’s patron Giovanni Barezzi. It was as a lodger in this house, that the composer met his first wife Margherita, who, along with their two young children, died tragically only a few years after their marriage. The house was a center of musical life in the village and is now restored to display artifacts about the composer and his relationship to the Barezzi family.

After a quick stop for coffee at the Café Centrale and time to pose for a picture in front of the statue of Verdi, next on the itinerary was the Antica Corte Pallavicina, where “Culatello di Zibello” is made. This is a delicious type of Parma ham made from the butt of the pig. Verdi was one of  the past patrons of this delicacy. Among the current clients of the Antica Corte Pallavicina are Prince Charles and Prince Albert of Monaco (whose allocation could be found among the hanging meat).
Prince Charles stash of culatello
The Sarasotans were treated to a testing of cullatello, along with other types of prosciutto and salame, washed down with some local wine. This was the appetizer for a wonderful lunch next door at “Il Cavallino Bianco (The White Pony)” a Michelin-starred restaurant on the property.

Although after lunch everyone could have used a nice nap, the travelers moved on to one of the most honored places by Verdi lovers, the Villa Verdi at Sant’Agata. Following his unpleasant experience living in Busseto and being a farmer at heart, the composer purchased a farm in 1848 and immediately began extensive alterations and additions. He expanded the house and the grounds so that within in few years it was the biggest employer in the area encompassing many acres. The composer and his wife lived there from 1851 through their deaths.
Outside the Casa Verdi in Sant'Agata
Several of the 100 rooms of the house are now maintained as a museum but the rest is still used as a home by Verdi’s descendants. The rooms of the museum are maintained as they were in Verdi’s time. However, the Sarasota visitors got a special treat, when the guide took them to rooms not generally open to the public including the salon, foyer, dining room,  and billiard room, where they were  joined by Angiolo Carrara-Verdi, the great-great-great grandson of Verdi’s heir Filomena Maria Carrara-Verdi and his wife.

After a quick stop at the Church in Le Roncole, where Verdi first played the organ, the group headed back to the hotel after a tiring, but enlightening day.

The following day included a short tour of conductor Arturo Toscanini’s birthplace and the beautiful Teatro Farnese. The travelers then had some time to wander the streets of Parma on their own before meeting for a trip to Piacenza for a concert performance of Verdi’s I due Foscari at the Teatro Municipale.
Teatro Municipale before the performance of Verdi's I due Foscari
The audiences in region of Parma are known as some of the most discerning and judgmental in the world. Singers who don’t make the grade have been literally run out of town. But when they are enthusiastic, they are indescribably appreciative and demonstrative. That was certainly the case this evening.

I due Foscari was performed without sets or costumes, but was sung complete with orchestra and chorus. The cast included world renowned baritone Leo Nucci, tenor Fabio Sartori, and soprano Kristin Lewis, who was known by the the Sarasota audience from her performance of Musetta in La bohème there in 2006.  Since then she has made a successful career in Europe and is now based in Vienna. The conductor was Donato Renzetti.

The theater was pulsing with excitement for the performance. All the principals were exciting and easily thrilled the audience. But the palm for this performance had to go to veteran baritone Nucci, who at the age of 73 still has the goods to deliver. After his final aria the audience could not contain themselves and lept to their feet in appreciation.
Baritone Leo Nucci takes a bow alongside conductor Donato Renzetti. Photo courtesy of
Adjourning around the corner to the  Antica Osteria del Teatro for cocktails and another sumptuous dinner, the group was joined by the stars of the performance, Leo Nucci and Kristin Lewis. One of the group Terry Osborne, received an extra special thrill as the singers serenaded him with “Happy Birthday.”
Renowned baritone Leo Nucci (left) with Terry and Valerie Osborne
Few will forget this exciting day and a performance that was a special highlight of the trip.

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