Florence’s New Classical Music Season
After a busy summer of outdoor music festivals throughout the region, the classical music scene returns to Florence’s center stage. The Teatro del Maggio spotlights opera productions, the Orchestra della Toscana (ORT) focuses on symphonic concerts, and Amici della Musica organizes Florence’s premier chamber music series, held as always in the 17th-century gem Teatro della Pergola.
The Maggio Musicale Fiorentino opens its 2019-2020 opera season with a rarity, Fernand Cortez by Gaspare Spontini. Napoleon Bonaparte called on Spontini to compose a new opera, intended as political propaganda to support the Emperor’s invasion of Spain in 1808 and based on the story of Fernand Cortez, a legendary 16th-century Spanish explorer involved in the conquest of Mexico. Cortez symbolizes Napoleon while the “savage” Aztec priests are meant to represent the Spanish Inquisition.
Considered the first work in the style of “grand-opéra,” never had so much money been spent on such a production. It was debuted in Paris on November 28, 1809 in the presence of Napoleon himself, with sumptuous sets, a grand orchestra, and special effects including 17 live horses charging on the stage. The addition of a love story between Cortez and the Aztec princess Amazily secured the guaranteed success of the opera (staged on October 16, 20, 23).
The season will continue with a series of audience favorites. Carmen by Georges Bizet is on the calendar for seven performances (October 13-25). One of the most popular operas of all time, sadly the piece wasn’t a success when it was first performed in Paris in 1875. The audiences were scandalized and shocked by the story of love and jealousy between the wild gypsy Carmen and the naive soldier Don Jose. Marina Comparato and Karina Demurova (the latter on October 15, 18, 22) appear in the role of Carmen.
Giacomo Puccini will be represented in November (15,17, 21, 23) with the Triptych of one-act operas Il Tabarro, Suor Angelica, and Gianni Schicchi. The subject of the final of the three is taken from an episode of Dante’s Inferno from the Divine Comedy and includes the lovely aria “O mio babbino caro,” a favorite with Florentine audiences.
Rigoletto, one of Giuseppe Verdi’s masterpieces, will have five performances (November 16 – 26). It tells the sad tale of the hunchbacked court jester at the court of Mantua, and his innocent daughter Gilda’s tragic end. With Renato Palumbo on the podium, the role of Rigoletto will be interpreted by Luca Micheletti.
Following is another favorite, Puccini’s La Bohème, the love story between the young seamstress Mimì and the bohemian poet, Rodolfo. The world premiere performance took place in Turin on February 1, 1896 and was conducted by the young Arturo Toscanini. The Maggio Theatre offers six dates (December 14, 17, 19, 21 and January 3, 5) led by Francesco Ivan Ciampi.
With a modern version of the classic story, the Compagnia Nuovo Balletto di Toscana will present the ballet Cinderella, choreographed by Jiři Bubenicek, in December (15,18, 20).
The Orchestra della Toscana will hold its inaugural concert of the season on October 25. Joining forces with the Italian Youth Orchestra, based at the Scuola di Musica di Fiesole, music director Daniele Rustioni conducts a program of 20th century symphonic classics. Richard Strauss’ tone poem Also sprach Zarathustra is particularly well-known for being the thematic music of the Kubrick film, 2001: A Space Odyssey. Pétrouchka by Igor Stravinsky, composed for the Ballet Russes in 1911, will be followed by Ravel’s La Valse. The performance begins with a new work—In cerchi concentrici per tromba e orchestra (Concentric Circles for Trumpet and Orchestra)—by Di Cecca, featuring Donato De Sena, principal trumpet of the ORT.
On November 12, Evgeny Bushkov takes the podium for a rendition of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto, with Ilya Grigolts (b. 1982), first-prize winner of the Paganini Competition in 1998 as soloist. The concert concludes with Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony, n. 6, its full title being, “Recollections of Country Life.”
The traditional Christmas concert on December 24 sees Paolo Bortolameolli, the recently appointed Associate Conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, conducting the excitingly romantic Tchaikovsky Concerto n. 1 for piano, with guest artist Dimitry Masleev. The young Siberian musician (b. 1988) won the First Prize and Gold Medal at the 2016 International Tchaikovsky Competition. The evening concludes with the “New World” Symphony by Antonín Dvořák, composed in 1893 while he was living in New York.
The 2019-20 season of the Amici della Musica offers a series of concerts by the finest pianists, string quartets, and instrumentalists on the music scene today.
On October 20 and 21 Canadian pianist Angela Hewitt continues her project “The Bach Odyssey.” Beginning in the fall of 2016 she began her four-year journey to perform all of Bach’s keyboard works in 12 recitals. Hewitt, one of the foremost Bach specialists today, is presenting the project in cities and concert halls around the world including London, New York, Tokyo, Vienna, Florence, Rotterdam, Bilbao and Australia.
At the Pergola she will perform two recitals including the six so-called ‘English Suites’. Scholars have not found evidence as to why these early suites were given this title, but it is believed that Bach composed them for an English nobleman.
For lovers of vocal music, the Swedish soprano Lisa Larsson joins Tuscan pianist Andrea Lucchesini on November 3 in a program of enchanting lieder and solo piano works by Schubert and Schumann. Songs written by them and others of the Romantic era for voice and piano are known as Lieder, the plural of Lied, the German word for song.
Franz Schubert wrote over 600 lieder, many of these incorporating the words of his contemporary, the poet Goethe. One of the works presented here will be ‘Gretchen am Spinnerade’ (Gretchen at the Spinning Wheel), set to the words of a scene of Goethe’s tragic play Faust and composed by Schubert at the young age of 17. A selection of songs by Robert Schumann from Dichterliebe, “A Poet’s Love,” created in 1840, round out the evening.
For an alternative musical experience, Giovanni Sollima, renowned Sicilian cellist, and Avi Avital, the Israeli mandolin virtuoso pair up for an eclectic evening of music entitled Roots on November 11. The program will offer traditional classical music by Dario Castello, Frescobaldi and Scarlatti. Music from the Balkans and around the Adriatic, along with popular songs and some of Sollima’s original compositions, will also be featured.
One of the later events, on December 14, will bring the King’s Singers, an all-male a cappella group from England, on stage. The ensemble was initially formed at King’s College, Cambridge in 1968. Although various members have come and gone over the years, the original combination of vocal ranges is unchanged: two countertenors; one tenor; two baritones; and one bass. The King’s Singers’ primary goal, to spread the joy of ensemble singing via performances, workshops, and courses, has remained the same since its founding.
Their mission is one that The Amici della Musica would certainly be on board with. Since 1920, the Florentine ‘Friends of Music’ has worked to make traditionally elitist concerts both accessible and affordable to everyone, especially young people. For university students under the age of 30, tickets are €10 each, while students attending music schools only pay €5 each.
All performances will be held at the Teatro della Pergola, the beautiful, richly decorated performance space which has been representative of Florence’s history of theater, music, and dance since it opened in 1657. (anne lokken)