On February 16, 1908 the Orchestra Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia (in those days is was the Reale Accademia di Santa Cecilia) played its first concert at the long vanished Anfiteatro Corea. It was a Sunday afternoon and Guiseppe Martucci conducted a very mixed programme:
Rossini - The Siege of Corinth Overture
Beethoven - Symphony #3 - Eroica
Mozart - Eine Kleine Nachtmusik
Wagner - Siegfried Forest Murmurs and Tannhauser Overture
On Saturday - 100 years to the day - Antonio Pappano led the current orchestra in the same programme in the stunning Salle Santa Cecilia of the Parco del Musica.
Pappano has a way with Rossini - as witness his Guillaume Tell earlier in the season - so The Siege of Corinth Overture had a certain sparkle and panache. Sadly that didn't carry over to a flabby performance of the Beethoven - the title of the second movement "Funeral March" was taken to literally for my taste and the rest was all climaxes and crescendo and little else. It doesn't give me great hope for the 9th in April. After the intermission the remarkable string section gave a light and pleasant reading of the Mozart favorite. Then the full orchestra and Pappano let lose with the Wagner. The Forest Murmurs was well judged and the wind section outdid themselves. For the Tannhauser Overture even the normally wayward French Horns seemed to be in total agreement with their conductor and his interpretation. It was a real dual between Christian and Pagan love - the core of Wagner's opera. The recurring Pilgrims Chorus, which can often have a sanctimonious heaviness to it, was uplifting, at times even joyous. And the Venusberg music had an insinuating sensuality about it. It was a very Italian reading and the most satisfying music of the evening.
The concert was given in the presence of Giorgio Napolitano, the much respected President of Italy and this led to a little scene that could only have happened here.
As he entered most of the audience stood and applauded. The woman next to me - of a "certain" age, spun sugar blond hair, heavy make-up and a slight smell of mothballs and body odor to her black wool dress - refused to stand, loudly proclaiming that he should do something about the disgraceful garbage strike in Naples. The woman behind sharply rebuked her for bad manners and the lady in front of her demanded to know what she thought the poor President could do about it - go and pick up the garbage himself? She retorted that she had paid for her ticket and when he started paying for his she'd stand for him. Fortunately the orchestra broke into the National Anthem at this point.
As the stirring - and very operatic - Fratelli d'Italia played I gave a sigh of recognition - Canadians aren't the only ones who don't know all the words to their National Anthem or make half-hearted stabs at singing it. I would dare say a good half the audience didn't know the words and those that did mumbled them self-consciously. It was just like being back home.
I noticed that President Napolitano seemed to be singing heartily, the Lady beside me mumbled!
19 febbraio - San Mansueto