Meloni Joins UNESCO Celebration of Italian Opera Recognition

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VERONA, Italy (AP) — Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni joined top political and cultural figures at Verona’s ancient Arena amphitheater Friday night for an open-air celebration of Italian lyric opera’s recognition by UNESCO as a global cultural treasure.

Conductor Riccardo Muti presided over an orchestra of 170 musicians from Italy’s 14 opera houses, joined by over 314 choral singers and a cast of global star opera stars who delivered a greatest hits of Italian opera from Verdi to Puccini, Donizetti to Bellini for an appreciative crowd. La Scala’s two star dancers, Roberto Bolle and Nicoletta Manni, also performed.

“I am here to testify to my enthusiasm and my pride for the fact that Italian lyric opera has received this great recognition,″ Muti told the crowd. “Of course, this is an important moment, because recognition is never a point of arrival but a point of departure.”

“The great masterpieces are our heritage, which we Italians have given to the world,″ Muti added in a prepared message for the television audience. While UNESCO included Italian opera on its intangible cultural heritage list in December, the Arena proved a fitting place to celebrate the milestone. The ancient stone amphitheater built by the Romans is home to a popular summer opera festival that for generations has made opera accessible to the uninitiated with lavish productions. More than half of the 400,000 spectators at the Arena each summer are foreigners.

“We have brought together the entire Italian opera system to celebrate, together with the great singers of the world,″ said the Arena’s deputy artistic director, Stefano Trespidi. “I am convinced that this evening will bring benefits to the entire music and opera system.”

Joining Italian opera stars like Luca Salsi, Francesco Meli and Vittorio Grigolo were international stars including German tenor Jonas Kaufmann, Australian soprano Jessica Pratt and Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Florez. Russian soprano Anna Netrebko canceled at the last minute due to illness.

Though a previous center-left government prepared the UNESCO bid for Italian lyric opera, the recognition has been embraced by Italy’s far-right-led government. Besides Meloni, also attending the gala were Culture Minister Gennaro Sangiuliano — who has set out to replace foreign opera house directors with Italians — and Senate speaker Ignazio La Russa, both members of her Brothers of Italy Party. The loudest applause was reserved for Italy’s nonpartisan president, Sergio Mattarella. And Muti seemed to be making a point against Eurosceptics on the far-right when he transitioned from the Italian anthem, with its “Brothers of Italy” refrain echoing the name of Meloni’s party, to Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy,” which is the European Union anthem. Europeans are voting for European Parliament seats in an election that concludes Sunday and could determine whether far-right parties will have a greater say in the direction of the 27-member bloc.