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A Night of Italian Opera

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Alessandro Siciliani joined the Columbus Symphony Orchestra as Music Director in 1992. In the twelve years that followed, Maestro Siciliani led the orchestra and its audience to a level of sophistication unimaginable when he began, including a debut performance at Carnegie Hall in April 2001. These days, the management of the Columbus Symphony Orchestra lacks the competence and leadership required to secure Siciliani in another contract, but the Maestro himself continues to make appearances as Conductor Laureate. On Friday, April 29, we were treated to a wonderful program: a night of Italian opera.

Born in Florence, Italy, and the fourth recipient of the Amerigo Vespucci Award (given to Italian conductors of international stature), Siciliani is deeply connected to Italian opera, and it clearly shows. The evening's program was a wonderful selection of Rossini, Donizetti, Verdi, Mascagni, Puccini, and Leoncavallo. Joining Siciliani and the Columbus Symphony Orchestra was tenor Francisco Casanova.

Casanova is widely acclaimed and the recipient of the Beniamino d'Oro award by the Beniamino Gigli Museum of Recanati (Italy), the first ever non-Italian singer to be thus honored. Having seen Casanova perform on earlier occasions, I knew that I was in for a treat.

First up was Rossini's Overture to L'assedio di Corinto, an orchestra piece to get things started. Next entered Casanova to perform “Una furtiva lagrima” from Donizetti's L'Elisir D'Amore. A series of Verdi's works followed, including the Overture to Luisa Miller, “Quando le sere al placido” from Act II Finale from Luisa Miller, “Questa o quella” from Rigaletto, the Overature to La forza del destino, and “O tu che in seno agli angeli” from La fortza del destino.

The set was, without question, wonderful. I was a bit surprised to find that after it concluded—this is before intermission, mind you—the audience decided that a standing ovation was in order. Fine. Far be it from me to decide for someone else which is the best performance of the year for them.

Following the intermission was Mascagni's Intermezzo from L'Amico Fritz. My favorite part of the program followed: Puccini. We heard “Recondita atmonia,” the Beginning of Act III, and “E Lucevan le Stelle,” all from Tosca. We were treated to minor performances by Donal Duffy (as the Jailer) and Celia Smith (as the Shepherd). Poor Mr. Duffy committed a minor gaffe, entering the stage at the wrong time (fortunately before the Maestro had begun).

Demonstrating his wonderful rapport with both his Columbus audience and his musicians, Siciliani comically shooed Duffy (who himself responded in good humor) from the stage while the audience chuckled at Siciliani's response to the extra musician. With a shrug of his shoulders and a few words to the audience, Siciliani explained that our program included the work of two students from Capital University... Oops, but no harm done. This bit of sideshow in no way detracted from a delightful performance.

Finally came a set of three pieces from I Pagliacci: the Intermezzo, “Vesti la Guibba,” and the Prologue. The music was lovely but sadly, there was more confusion. The audience seemed to want to jump the gun and after “Vesti la Guibba,” the audience sprung to its feet and gave another standing ovation. Some people started to put on their coats and apparently were in a hurry to bolt. More than a few people sat through the Prologue in their coats after having earlier jumped the gun. Applause then thundered, and rightly so, but the audience by this point—where an ovation would be most appropriate—wasn't about to try to guess what was going on and whether they should stand.

We got two encores. I am still having trouble placing the first but perhaps that's because of the extraordinary declaration offered by Casanova before he began. “At the risk of making a lot of enemies,” he said, “this is the only conductor I would do this kind of program with.” (Bravo, sir!) We take this as evidence of his familiarity with the CSO's present turmoil (discussed in more detail below) and the need for certain pinheads to be told that ejection of the globally-recognized talent that has led our program through twelve seasons will only harm the Symphony's international stature and its ability to attract top performers. The second encore was a selection from La Boheme, one of my favorite operas.

This performance was special for many reasons. The first is the simple matter of timing: Niki and I just had our ninth wedding anniversary and we have maintained a steady presence at the Symphony over that time. Next is the matter of content: Italian opera. I presume that sophisticated readers such as can be found on Ergo Sum have no need for further explanation.

Finally, we arrive where we began: with Maestro Siciliani himself and the musicians of the Columbus Symphony Orchestra. An absolutely disastrous series of what can only be interpreted as management blunders has threatened the financial future of the Columbus Symphony Orchestra. This same management seems to be in favor of ridding itself of Siciliani's influence: the very same influence that took the Orchestra to a debut performance at Carnegie Hall. CSO's management has repeatedly refused significant offers of financial support—up to $1.5 million—that come with the plan for the musicians to take a six percent reduction in salary and keeping Siciliani on for another two years. This incompetent bumbling is inexcusable. In response, Niki and I have not renewed our season tickets (instead going only to performances led by Siciliani), and Interhack Corporation has refused its traditional annual support. The musicians have set up a Web site that describes this travesty and the proposals for a way out of it. I strongly urge anyone who cares about Columbus, who cares about the arts, and who cares about great music to read the site carefully and to consider its contents.

Created by cmcurtin
Last modified 2005-05-04 01:52 PM
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