Francesco Reggiani: Opera is not an art form of the past

Performers like Raina Kabaivanska are viewed as icons in Italy and around the world

Photo: Boyko Kyuchukov

Of all Italian composers, Rossini perhaps has the greatest international appeal, he is embraced worldwide, Francesco Reggiani, Director of Historical Archives at Teatro dell'Opera di Roma, says in an interview to Europost.

Maestro Reggiani, you are here in Bulgaria for the presentation of the exhibition Rossini: Cara Italia al fin ti miro. What made you choose this title, what is your message to visitors?

This year marks the 150th anniversary from the death of Gioachino Rossini. Cara Italia al fin ti miro (Dear Italy, at last I see you) is the first verse of Selim's aria in Rossini's opera Il turco in Italia (The Turk in Italy). Of all Italian composers, Rossini perhaps has the greatest international appeal, he is embraced worldwide. Along with costumes and photos from the Teatro dell'Opera di Roma's archive, the Sofia exhibition includes the first printed musical score of Il barbiere di Siviglia (The Barber of Seville), dating back to 1825. The goal of our exhibitions is to promote globally the Italian cultural heritage and present opera's cultural identity. Our archives are public and can be visited by anyone. They keep sketches and about 10,000 drawings, 11,000 photos from the performances, about 84,000 costumes. Alessandra Malusardi, assistant director of the archives, set up a website dedicated to the history of Teatro dell'Opera di Roma from 1880 until 2018.

Is it true that Rossini wrote Il barbiere di Siviglia in just 12 days? What do the archives say about this?

Some say it was done in 15 days. But this information does not come from our archives. Rossini was quite shrewd and composed the opera using parts of other works of his, but he suffered a great disappointment in 1816 when he was booed at the world premiere in the Teatro Argentina in Rome. The truth is that there already had been another Il barbiere di Siviglia written by Jiovanni Paisiello, and it was his supporters who booed Rossini. But he was clever enough to actually name the opera Almaviva o sia l'inutile precauzione (Almaviva, or the Useless Precaution). But this is not in our archives, which deal exclusively with the operations of Teatro dell'Opera di Roma. Fondazione Rossini, seated in his hometown of Pesaro, offers us documents chronicling the legacy of this brilliant composer. Teatro dell'Opera di Roma was established in 1880, 12 years after Rossini's passing.

 Italy is universally recognised as the birthplace of opera. Why do you think the greatest masterpieces of this genre have been created there?

Italy is in the heart of the Mediterranean region and over the years has become an amalgamation of different cultures' contributions, starting with the Roman Empire. We have picked up from the experience, traditions and customs of many peoples and, most importantly, have preserved all this information as cultural heritage. Besides, we Italians are famous for our love of food, and cuisine is like art - the more dishes there are, the more innovative you can be. Lyrical opera is among our many creations. I should point out that this type of opera spread around the world, allowing many countries to make their contributions to its development with great artists who gained global recognition. Bulgaria is one of those countries. Raina Kabaivanska, Ghena Dimitrova, Boris Christoff, Nikola Gyuzelev, Nikolay Gyaurov - they have all sang in our opera theatres and received ovations as icons. I know Raina Kabaivanska personally and have worked with her. Finding tickets to see her performances in Tosca, Madama Butterfly and Manon Lescaut was nearly impossible. She was marvellous as the Merry Widow. This kind of singing is capable of uniting nations all over the world.

The world has changed tremendously since Rossini's era. Is opera an art form of the past or does it have a future?

Opera has a future, of course. It has withstood the emergence of radio, television and all the modern communications technologies. Besides, opera has evolved. It has branched into the film industry and its leading performers have found their way to the cinemas. Not only that - Pietro Mascagni wrote the symphonic pieces for the silent film Rapsodia Satanica. Today, entire TV channels are dedicated to lyrical opera and classical music. So it is the other way round - opera benefited from changes. Moreover, the Italian language, which is spoken by a relatively small number of people (we are a population of 60 million) has spread worldwide thanks to opera. We sometimes wonder why Mozart felt the need to write three operas (they are actually four) in Italian. Let me tell you a story that is not an anecdote, but a piece of history. Fleeing his creditors, Mozart's librettist Lorenzo da Ponte went to America in 1805 and founded the first Italian language school in New York. It was named Columbus at the time, and today it is known as Columbia University.

 La Scala di Milano offers €2 tickets for people under the age of 25. Is this the way to get the youth into opera theatres more often?

 Rome Opera House does the same. All our dress rehearsals are reserved strictly for student audience. Many schools come to watch our rehearsals. We also organise classes with different lecturers and seminars for universities not only in Italy but abroad as well. We see this as a privilege.

I would like to share something that filled me with pride while being here in Sofia the last couple of days, preparing the Rossini exhibition. One morning, a group of mothers came to the opera with their little children, most of them under the age of two. They attended a show. Kids have the innate ability to perceive and comprehend the world around them quickly, and it is wonderful to see them step into the opera theatre before they have even started school. I was very happy to see these mothers with their children. I felt an even stronger conviction that what opera is doing is really important.


Born in Spoleto in 1952, Francesco Reggiani completed his university studies in Rome at the Faculty of Foreign Languages and Literatures, with a specialty in History of Theatre and Music. He made his debut as a director in 1975 at the Teatro Caio Melisso di Spoleto with the seventeenth-century opera La luna nel pozzo, earning great critical acclaim. In 1977 he was hired at the Teatro dell'Opera di Roma as a permanent assistant director. A rapid career development in the same theatre led him to assume the functions of stage director and then of head of external theatre activities. In 1983 he was hired at the Teatro La Fenice in Venice in the role of a permanent director. The same year, he was appointed as assistant superintendent of the Opera di Roma, a position he held until 1989. Subsequently, he was entrusted with the management of the Historical and Audiovisual Archive, a position he still holds.



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