The Festival Verdi takes place on the stretch of country where the composer was born, schooled, learnt his trade, and, despite youthful resentments, where he bought a farm and built a villa as a haven and retreat for the last 50 years of his life. Lying then within the Duchy of Parma, it remains predominantly rural, with the attraction of a kind of unchanging, authentic ordinariness. This was the mise-en-scène which gave rise to an artistic oeuvre displaying a range of tumultuous passions and human empathy equalled perhaps only by Shakespeare.
The performances are in two theatres which are of the highest historical importance and beauty, and a monumental space in the heart of Parma. The Teatro Regio in Parma was built in 1829 by ex-Empress Maria-Luisa, modelled on La Scala in Milan. The small horse-shoe Teatro Verdi at Busseto dates to 1856 and was built within what had been the local magnate’s residence.
Performances at Parma’s Teatro Regio are always exciting occasions – the audience is one of the most knowledgeable and vocal in Italy – and the new production of I due Foscari will surely offer a wonderful opportunity to sample authentic Italian operatic culture. Though only Verdi’s sixth opera, I due Foscari is a sombre tragedy with its own, distinctive tinta to match – full of that deep feeling for Italian history that was to find fullest expression in his mature masterpiece Simon Boccanegra. Prefiguring that famous operatic portrayal of a Doge of Genoa, it tells the story of the elderly Francesco Foscari, the disgraced Doge of Venice, and his exiled son Jacopo. Though its première was judged by Verdi to have been a ‘mezzo-fiasco’, audiences have come to recognize the opera as one of the most distinctive of Verdi’s early works. Of course, the most famous of Verdi’s early operas is Nabucco, with which we open our visit to Parma. The tour also gives us the chance to sample perhaps the least well known of Verdi’s mature operas, Luisa Miller, a work full of wonderful, first-rate music. Somehow Luisa Miller seems to have fallen into that slightly blurry patch of works composed between Macbeth and Rigoletto.
Busseto, near the composer’s birthplace, offers a very different experience – and this autumn it will be hosting its own immersive celebration, called ‘Verdi Off’. Expect to find artists gathering in the streets to perform their Verdian favourites. Seeing performances in the little Teatro Verdi di Busseto provides one of the most intimate operatic experiences – one well suited to the tragic drama of Aida. Although this may not be immediately apparent, given the imposing Triumph Scene for which the work is so famous, most of the opera is actually a series of intimate duets, so we can expect to see this opera revealed in a new light.
Parma. Fly at c. 2.45pm from London Heathrow to Bologna Airport (British Airways). Drive to Parma, one of the loveliest of the smaller cities in Italy and the base for all five nights of the tour.
Parma. Court city of the Farnese dynasty, Parma is a treasure house of art and architecture. In the morning there is a visit to the cathedral and baptistry, among the finest Romanesque buildings in Italy, the former with dazzling illusionistic frescoes by Correggio. Evening opera at the Teatro Regio di Parma: Nabucco.
Sant’Agata, Le Roncole, Busseto. An excursion begins with the villa that Verdi built for himself at Sant’Agata, and continues to the territory where Verdi was born, grew up and lived intermittently for much of his life. Visit his birthplace in the hamlet of Le Roncole, and Busseto, where he lived for the earlier part of his life. Evening opera at the Teatro Verdi in Busseto: Aida.
Parma. Free morning, followed by a visit to the vast Farnese Palace where an excellent picture collection is displayed. Afternoon visits may also include a backstage tour of the Teatro Regio, subject to rehearsal schedules. Evening opera in a monumental space in the heart of Parma: Luisa Miller.
Cremona. The birthplace of Monteverdi, Stradivarius and Guarini and still a centre of violin making, Cremona has a splendid central square formed of cathedral, campanile (Italy’s tallest), baptistry and civic palaces. The cathedral is richly embellished with 16th-century paintings, the baptistry with Romanesque sculpture and the municipal fortresses are red-brick Gothic. Evening opera at the Teatro Regio di Parma: I due Foscari.
Drive to Bologna Airport for the flight to London Heathrow, arriving at c. 1.30pm.
Dr John Allison
Editor of Opera magazine and music critic for The Daily Telegraph. He was born in South Africa and completed his PhD degree while playing the piano and working as assistant organist at Cape Town cathedral. Since moving to London in 1989 he has written for publications around the world, authored two books, contributed chapters to several other volumes and served on the juries of many international competitions. He has also held positions as music critic on The Sunday Telegraph and the Times.
Dr R. T. Cobianchi
Art historian and researcher specializing in Italian art and architecture of the Renaissance and Baroque. His interests also span from the iconography of the late Middle Ages to the sculpture of Neoclassicism.
Price, per person
Two sharing: £3,060 or £2,940 without flights. Single occupancy: £3,435 or £3,315 without flights.
tickets to four performances (see below); flights (economy class) with British Airways (Airbus 321); private coach for transfers and excursions; hotel accommodation as described below; breakfasts, 4 dinners with wine, water, coffee; all tips for waiters, drivers, guides; all state and airport taxes; the services of two lecturers.
Top-category tickets for 4 performances are included, costing c. £800. Currently, we are unable to confirm whether these will be in stalls or boxes.
Hotel Sina Maria Luigia, Parma: recently renovated 4-star hotel, located near the historic centre.
Some walking is unavoidable as coaches are not permitted into historic town centres. There are late nights throughout the tour, and most mornings start at 10.00am. Average distance by coach per day: 53 miles.
Between 10 and 22 participants.
Before booking, please refer to the FCO website to ensure you are happy with the travel advice for the destination(s) you are visiting: www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
'John Alison is a walking textbook in opera and Roberto's art commentaries made us see important details in the painting and buildings.'
'The two lecturers were superb.'
'A very good break intellectually conducted in brilliant weather and some interesting fellow travellers.'