On Friday, April 8, Boston’s Symphony Hall was filled with Italian patriots, Italian-Americans, and those of us who just love Italian music for a concert in celebration of the 150th anniversary of the unification of Italy. In a program entitled Notte Tricolore: Italia, una Immensa Storia d’Amore, the Orchestra Sinfonica Dell’ Europa Unita performed Giuseppe Verdi’s overture to La forza del destino, film composer Nino Rota’s The Leopard Suite, and two world premieres: Norma – Libera Fantasia e Variazioni per Pianoforte e Orchestra by Oscar winner Luis Bacalov and a new arrangement of Goffredo Mameli’s Hymn of Italy composed and conducted by Renato Serio.
After a rendition of Francis Scott Key’s Star Spangled Banner, the Italian program began in earnest. Renato Serio’s Hymn of Italy for piano and orchestra was a lovely work, with beautiful melodies so often associated with the Italian style. Although Rossana Tomassi Golkar performed well, the piano was sometimes lost in the texture, a problem that would persist in the second half of the concert. This work would be reprised to close the festivities, and on its second hearing many of the audience members joined in singing their anthem in a show of national pride.
The next work was Giuseppe Verdi’s La forza del destino; although the audience expected to hear The Leopard Suite, the three-note “fate motive” that opens the work unmistakably signaled a change in program order. The overture to La forza del destino, an opera in four acts to a libretto by Francesco Maria Piave, is a collection of favorite melodies from the opera score: the final-act duet between Alvaro and Carlo, Leonora’s Act Two aria, ‘Madre, pietosa Vergine’, and Leonora’s duet with Padre Guardiano. The brass’s forceful “fate motive” and the energetic string theme that follow created a driving sense of tension periodically relieved through the presentation of the familiar operatic melodies. The woodwinds, who often played the role of operatic voice in these sections, produced some of the loveliest sounds of the night, playing with a precision that highlighted their clear, beautiful timbres.
The Leopard Suite by Italian composer Nino Rota (1911-1979) is the product of a film career that amounts to more than 150 titles and collaborations with renowned directors such as Federico Fellini, René Clément, Franco Zeffirelli, and Francis Ford Coppola, among others. This particular work stems from Rota’s collaboration with Luchino Visconti on Il gattopardo (The Leopard), the 1963 movie based on a novel by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa about changing Sicilian society during the Italian Risorgimento. Taken as a whole, one might characterize the suite as a light and tuneful work depicting various dance movements in a Classical style. Two of the seven movements are clearly waltzes with lovely, lilting melodies passed between the string and woodwind sections. The third movement presented a sweet melody that alternated between the violins, oboe and flute, and the principle clarinet shone in the fifth movement, a lively and playful section in which the clarinetist’s body language revealed his pure enjoyment of the music. Another highlight of the suite was the fast Galop of the sixth movement, which exuded a fun, carnivalesque character and demonstrated the skill of the orchestra in its execution of playful dynamic contrasts. The audience and performers alike seemed to thoroughly enjoy Rota’s playful dances.
The second half of the concert began with Norma – Libera Fantasia e Variazioni per Pianoforte e Orchestra, in which Maestro Luis Bacalov revisited Bellini’s Norma and the drama of the aria “Casta Diva.” Pianist Rossana Tomassi Golkar returned to the stage for this multi-movement work, and some of her best moments came at the end of Norma with long piano interludes that highlighted her skill at the instrument. Like the other compositions on the program, beautiful melodies were the star of the work, especially Bellini’s “Casta diva.” The orchestra played well, particularly the woodwinds and brass, but balance was an issue in some of the louder sections, as the piano was often obscured by the breadth of the full orchestra. Occasionally, the orchestra and piano were not quite together; however, the majority of the audience were so swept up by the beauty of the music itself, that they forgave these and other imperfections to give Golkar and the Orchestra Sinfonica Dell’ Europa Unita a standing ovation.
The Orchestra Sinfonica Dell’ Europa Unita will continue its celebration of the unification of Italy with a concert at the NYU Skirball Center on April 14, 2011.