When you think of Italy, you think of opera – the two are inextricably bound. Opera is so passionate, so dramatic, so epic; no wonder I chose to set my passionate, dramatic, epic novel The Echoes of Love in Italy!
In another life, had I the musical genius, I would love to have written or sung in an opera. As it is, I content myself to listen to CDs, go to opera houses and write books in which my characters are touched, just a little, by this most beautiful and stirring of art forms. I did not situate The Echoes of Love in the world of opera (though later this week I’ll review a book that does so beautifully), but I used opera to construct a dramatic backdrop for Paolo’s home:
La Torretta had belonged to a famous opera singer who had retired there when his fame had started to dwindle. He was not a very likeable person and gossip had it that there were orgies and other kinds of strange parties that took place at his home. The notorious tenor and his guests had perished in the fire set by one of his vengeful mistresses. It was a gruesome story and there was a rumour that on stormy nights as you approached the turreted house, you could hear the tenor singing the aria Addio, fiorito asil from Puccini’s Madama Butterfly.
Do you know ‘Addio, fiorito asil’? It’s a powerful aria; here it is sung by that most famous of Italian opera singers, Pavarotti.
Did you know that Italy is the birthplace of opera? It originated there in the seventeenth century. Operas were performed as part of grand theatrical events, with dance and plays and other forms of music, to please the court, at occasions like weddings and victory celebrations. Venice was at the forefront of opera development; in 1637 the first public opera house, the Teatro di San Cassiano, opened its doors, and no longer was opera purely for the elite. Other houses opened, and the public filled the seats to hear the castrato and the prima donna. From there, touring companies and visitors to Italy spread the word of opera worldwide, and German, French and English composers in particular began writing their own operas. But the Italian opera was the father of all opera – it was respected as the core style; and a divide grew between non-Italian composers who wanted to create their own national opera styles and purists like Handel, Gluck and Mozart who followed the Italian style faithfully.
The most famous and widely performed Italian operas today were written in the 19th and early 20th centuries by Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti, Verdi and Puccini. Of them all, Giacomo Puccini (1858–1924) is especially respected as one of the greatest operatic composers; his works include Manon Lescaut, La bohème, Tosca, and Madama Butterfly, Turandot and La rondine.
Sadly, recent news has suggested that Italian opera is not the adored, treasured cultural institution it once was. The opera house in Rome, the Teatro dell’ Opera di Roma, has recently made redundant its entire orchestra and chorus, amounting to 182 people, to save money. Falling attendance has hit hard, and the opera house is in debt to the tune of millions of euros and remains open only due to subsidies from the Italian government and Rome city council. In addition, the Italian conductor Riccardo Muti resigned from his position of music director.
There will always be political and economical considerations that affect culture, of course. But while journalists have been writing of the death knell of Italian opera, I have no concerns.I imagine the lovers in my novel The Echoes of Love enjoying a happy-ever-after in Italy that includes many evenings out at the opera. Such romantic dates they will be, and after watching the action unfold on the stage for a couple of hours, their own love story will seem remarkably drama-free in comparison!