Though today is traditionally a day to wear green, here in Italy its Green, White and Red that are predominating. On March 17, 1861 Victor Emmanuel II, until then King of Piedmont, Savoy and Sardinia, was crowned as King of a United Italy and it has been chosen as the date to officially celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Unification. Everything is closed but the city will be abuzz with events - concerts, parades, exhibitions and fireworks.
Il Risorgimento, or "The Resurgence" to unify Italy had begun in the early 19th century and though Victor Emmanuel was to become King in 1861, the country was not truly united until the defeat of Pope Pius IX's troops on September 20, 1870 at Porta Pia. And even then historically it was not a fait accompli until after World War I.
Until 1861 the country had been a collection of City States, Kingdoms, Dukedoms, Republics and Territories led by an ever changing group of dynastic families. Borders and alliances were fluid depending on who was in and who was out. Many regions were under the domination of foreign powers who brutally suppressed any murmurs of nationalism. But the carbonari (coal burners), groups of like-minded revolutionists, began to cause unrest in 1820. The fighting was to reach a peak in 1848-49 when revolutions broke out throughout the peninsula and again in 1859. People like Mazzini, Garibaldi, Cavour and Victor Emmanuel himself were to play the major roles in the combat - on the battlefield and in the political backrooms - to eventual bring together the scattered Peninsula into the country we know today as Italy.
If ever there was a composer associated with il Risorgimento it would be Giuseppe Verdi, whose works are often sited as engendering fierce nationalistic feelings in the hearts of the hearers. His largely forgotten La Battaglia di Legano - which will be presented here in May - was a wild success with its boldly patriotic story and music. Its opening night audience demanded an encore of the entire last act and one particularly enthusiastic officer in the audience tried to jump on stage to join the battle between the Italians and Germans. This arousing of patriotic furor was particularly true of the choruses from many of the early works: Patria Oppressa - the cry of the Scottish exiles for their homeland in Macbeth; the despairing O signore, dal tetto natio sung by the pilgrims in I Lombardi; the triumphant hymn Cara patria già madre e reina, a call to found a new nation in Attila. All express the longing of a people for a homeland of their own but perhaps the one that expresses that feeling the most deeply is also the most famous: Va pensiero from his Nabucco.
the extraordinary happenings this week at the prima of the celebratory production of Nabucco at the Teatro dell'Opera here in Roma. The entire audience joined Riccardo Muti and the forces of the Opera in singing an encore of what many consider the "unofficial" national anthem of the United Italy. She also posted a wonderful performance, again led by Muti, from 1986 when the audience demanded an encore and got it! Truly breathtaking.
But as a tribute I thought I would post - or rather repost - a video I made two years ago at the Parco della Musica here in Roma. It was a Sunday morning performance by the Carabinieri Band with the chorus of the Academia Santa Cecilia styled after band concerts of the late 1800s and it ended with Verdi's chorus. The week before 6 young Italian soldiers had died in Afghanistan and the concert was dedicated to their memory which gave it an added poignancy. Unbidden that day many people in the audience joined in that. The performance is a bit rough and the video even rougher but for me it speaks as eloquently as any performance of a longing for nationhood and love of homeland.
To all my Italian friends and to my adopted country for the past four years I wish "Auguri" and a future, even in these hard times, as glorious as your past.
17 marzo -San Patrizio d'Irlanda