The Diversity of Italian Music

La Scala Theatre, Milan

For many people, Italian culture is synonymous with music. Most agree that the Italian language is very melodious, with its long vowels, and is therefore well suited for music and poetry. In this issue we have collected a variety of articles that demonstrate the broad international reach and the many different styles of Italian music that go beyond commonly held stereotypes.

In 2007, I visited the city of Manaus on the Rio Negro in the Amazon jungle. In the centre of this Brazilian city sits the Teatro Amazonas, an Italian-style opera house completed in 1896 with the financial backing of the rubber barons. The Italian architect, Celestial Sacardim, used imported white Carrara marble and Murano glass to enhance this graceful temple of the arts. While it is hard to imagine the sounds of Verdi, Rossini and Bellini echoing through the Amazon jungle, the opera house has indeed hosted many Italian operas and concerts.

This special music section raises many questions about Italian culture and the diversity of Italian music. In “Italian Opera: la troppo ricchezza, ” Michael and Linda Hutcheon describe the competing cultural forces behind the creation of their favourite opera, Verdi’s Falstaff. The lasting power of opera is further explored by Louise Pivato Banducci in “City of Music,” as she examines the superstar-type fame of opera composer Giacomo Puccini during his lifetime and his enduring popularity to this day. Manu Singla, a native of India, recounts her personal experiences introducing Bollywood music into an opera-loving Italian-Canadian family. The 1950s was the decade of the emergence of popular immigrant music, yet this music often showed the influences of opera-style singing. My article traces the broad impact of this music on Italian-Canadian writing to this day.

In his memoir about writing the opera libretto for Beatrice Chancy, poet George Elliott Clarke recalls the time he spent in beautiful Bellagio in 1998. When he returned to Bellagio a decade later, Clarke was struck by the decline in the state of the Villa Serbelloni, a victim of the global economic crisis. To me this decline in the landscape of Bellagio is emblematic of the decline in Italian culture.

In this section you will not find an article on contemporary popular Italian music, which I find of poor quality and imitative of American music. Yes, there are exceptions, but in general current Italian music is unoriginal – like much of current Italian TV programming dominated by Berlusconi’s media empire. Monopolies do not promote criticism or creativity. Over the past three decades there has been no food for the soul on the Italian airwaves. As many young professional Italians leave Italy in the fuga dei cervelli they take their Italian culture and music with them to the many corners of the world where they live on and thrive regardless of what happens in Italy.

Joseph Pivato was born in Italy and came to Canada in 1952. He teaches literature at Athabasca University. His latest book is Africadian Atlantic: Essays on George Elliott Clarke.

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