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The Toscanini Festival begins with a rediscovery: Puccini’s first opera

Happy idea to open the first festival dedicated to Toscanini with the first opera by Giacomo Puccini. First of all, because the artistic and human relationship between the conductor and the composer of Lucca was very important to both of them, albeit often tempestuous because of the different natures of the two: both proud and stinging, but choleric and not so inclined to diplomacy as the delicate and brilliant Toscanini. Their friendship was a sincere friendship even if it succumbed to violent quarrels that always followed a sudden lull.

The choice of Le Willis was also pleased that this work, in the later version entitled Le Villi, marked Toscanini’s first encounter with the music of Puccini, in 1890 in Brescia. It is a work that is practically forgotten today (but four years ago his remains were happily exhumed in Reggio Emilia), and not shown in Parma like three other Puccini titles: Edgar, Il tabarro and La rondine. Toscanini should not have regretted that he also directed it in Venice and Bologna and, above all, presented it at the American premiere at the Metropolitan in New York, in 1908, with a wonderful cast of actors (tenor Alessandro Ponce, soprano Frances Alda, baritone Pasquale Amato) Because this work is definitely unprecedented.

In Paganini we will hear it in the first version in one chapter entitled Le Willis, which Puccini composed for the competition Sonzogno in 1883. The composer, but behind the jury verdict, as he did to understand the musician Michel Girardi, there was probably the hand of Ricordi, who did not Wishing to leave this talented young man to the rival publisher (Sonzogno), he made sure that the prize went to others. Puccini, having listened to the works ranked first and second, seemed to comment: “But is it possible that I could have written something worse than these two works?”. Actually, it wasn’t. He did not lose heart and played piano opera in the living room of Marco Braga, the protagonist of Milan’s Scapigliatora. He was also heard by Arrigo Boito who, along with other patrons, helped him organize at Dal Verme in May 1884. The success was such that the next day he called up Ricordi Puccini and offered him a contract. Adolfo Trindelli, Puccini’s musical companion and then composer and teacher in the United States, left a vivid memory of that day: “We were four friends, Puccini, Mascani and Bozzi Pecchia, and we looked a bit like the characters of La Bohème by Murger… While he was going to the publisher, Puccini told us to wait for him.” At Caffè Biffi, in the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele. We were worried about him, but soon Puccini returned with a big smile on his face and, without saying a word, put a stack of banknotes on the table. Ricordi had given him 2,000 francs an advance on future royalties. And he had Also a contract for a new job on hand.”

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Ricordi bought the rights to Le Willis, but asked Puccini to review his work and turn it into two. In the new edition, Le Villi debuted in Turin on December 27, 1884, under the direction of Parmesan Giovanni Bolzoni. Like Edgar, Puccini’s second opera, it quickly vanished due to the composer’s consecutive victories, which does not mean that it is interesting to listen to it again today; Also to try and find out how much Puccini we know was already there on that first try or, as Omer Meir Wellber, music director of the festival suggests, how many Verdi memories can be found there.

The opera will be performed at Paganini in semi-scenic form, under the direction of Wilbur, with translations by soprano Celine Zanetti, Tenor Kang Wang, baritone Vladenir Stoyanov, obviously Toscanini Philharmonic and the choir of Camerata Ducale di Parma Martino Faggiani. Dramatic project and direction by Filippo Ferrarisi and scenic elements by Guido Boganza. Due to the short work, in the first part of the evening, a concerto will be performed in the G major for piano and orchestra by Maurice Ravel, and soloist Daniel Ciopano.

Toscanini Festival: In Parma, the Philharmonic plays Beethoven in Piazza Duomo


This is the first edition of the Toscanini Festival, and I hope, of course, that it will become an important event for our city. In this regard, one cannot help but note the strangeness that the opera, among other things which has never been shown in this city, is not performed in the Teatro Reggio, which would be its ideal setting. It is true that Paganini is the “home” of Toscanini, but it is not clear why an event like this should not be hosted by our most famous theater. It’s really strange to leave Regio for pop music and entertainment (as it has in recent weeks) and take the opera to an auditorium not equipped to host the opera scene.

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Mauro Ballestratze

Maggie Benson

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