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  • Opera Finds New Digs as Italian Interest Wavers
    Our Paesani

    by Francesca Di Meglio

    JANUARY 8, 2005 - Just before Christmas this year, the famed opera singer Renata Tebaldi, once said to have the "voice of an angel" by maestro Arturo Toscanini, passed away after a period of illness at age 82. "Farewell, Renata, your memory and your voice will be etched on my heart forever," tenor Luciano Pavarotti reportedly said when he heard the news. But that's not all Pavarotti and Italy are bidding adieu to. The loss of Tebaldi is another sign that opera is withering in its homeland despite its popularity soaring to new heights in countries like the United States.

    We've been witnessing the warning signs for years now. Take Pavarotti himself. His opera became more palatable after he made it sound like pop. Think of the Pavarotti and Friends CDs for charity that featured the tenor singing classic Top 40 favorites with the likes of Jon Bon Jovi and Ricky Martin. Andrea Bocelli's attempts at bringing his opera - instead of his adult contemporary hits - to his audience pretty much failed and were panned by critics.

    Recently, the world renown La Scala opera house in Milan reopened after being closed for three years of renovation. Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and his family were among audience members who welcomed the reopening of the theater's doors at the end of the year. It was to mark the beginning of opera's next renaissance in Italy.

    Still, some feel the new La Scala isn't living up to the hype. Franco Zeffirelli, one of the world's most famous opera directors, said the theater's first season is a disgrace and includes second-rate conductors, according to a letter he wrote to the Italian daily Corriere della Sera. (Corriere's critics gave good reviews to the plans for La Scala.)

    Although witnessing the world's most famous opera house getting pooh-poohed by the world's most famous opera director is hardly good news, it is not enough to kill the art form for Italians. There's more to it than that. ABC News reported earlier this week that Italians say only foreign tourists or businesspeople are taking in shows as the homegrown audience ages and dies off. In addition, the Milan Conservatory is changing its policies about capping foreign admissions because Italian voices are not trying out for the available spots, according to ABC.

    No one is really sure if opera will survive in Italy. But it will forever be linked with its birthplace. And Terabaldi may have passed away but her art will live on forever in her CDs and videos. Besides, opera attendance in America has gone up almost 50% since 1982. Opera might not be dying - just relocating to a new home.

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