in Eléphant Paname
Friday, September 27, 2013 > Sunday, January 5, 2014
Admission 9€, Reduced rate 7€ (with ID)
This year marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Giuseppe Verdi, the most frequently performed opera composer. Many bicentenary events have been organised around the world in 2013 to celebrate Verdi’s life and work.
It is only fitting and proper that the French capital should offer an ambitious and comprehensive tribute to this genius, who had many of his greatest successes in Milan and Paris, both home to famous temples of opera in the nineteenth century and since.
The aptly named Éléphant Paname has taken up this beautiful challenge. Dedicated to culture and dance, this magnificent nineteenth-century jewel of a place, just steps from the Palais Garnier opera house, nourishes the romantic spirit in all its visitors. Laurent Fiat and Fanny Fiat, the two young co-founders and co-directors of this unique multi-arts centre, driven by their noble and far-reaching commitments as ardent lovers of culture, are thus giving Verdi a compelling homage, in a truly Parisian venue.
Laurent and Fanny are especially pleased to be assisted in their endeavours by Franco Moretti, general director of the Fondazione Festival Pucciniano, but also Corrado Mingardi of the Museo Nazionale Giuseppe Verdi and the opera critic Elena Formica.
In recognition of this gratifying, yet demanding task, the aim of “Verdi at Éléphant Paname” is to expand understanding of this composer who dominated nineteenth-century Romantic opera, bringing Italian melodrama to its zenith, through portraits, manuscripts and other documents as well as performance excerpts. The exhibition seeks to capture the diversity and contradictions of Verdi’s genius. His personality is clearly one that must be explored in all its strength of character. Verdi was a figure deeply rooted in his native land who created works of unparalleled dramatic power. Therefore, in order to truly understand Verdi and his music, one must allow oneself to be swept away by theatrical illusion. By adopting this concept, the exhibition invites visitors to experience the play-within-a-play aspects tying together Verdi’s life and his body of work, musical compositions that stage the drama of human passions and emotions with unprecedented force, retaining a universal, timeless appeal. Painted and sculpted portraits of Verdi, stage costumes and props, set designs, sketches of costumes, first-edition libretti, original manuscripts, letters, reproductions of posters, filmed excerpts of operas, arias and scenes, interviews with experts in the field and opera connoisseurs, explanatory texts, quotations by the Maestro – all of these elements are among those offered to illustrate in a lively and comprehensive fashion the theme of this fascinating exhibition.
I discovered Verdi, Puccini and Italian opera during a year spent studying Italian Renaissance painting in Florence. My entire time there glided by to the strains of opera, which has left a lasting impression and often serves for me as a source of inspiration. In 2013, the world celebrates the 200th anniversary of Verdi’s birth. I knew immediately this would be the ideal opportunity to pay homage to him, while also reconnecting with my formative experience in Florence.
In 2010, my sister Fanny Fiat and I were introduced by a mutual friend to Franco Moretti, general manager of the Puccini Festival in Torre del Lago. Interested in adding dance shows to the bill at the festival, he extended an invitation to Compagnie Julien Lestel, with whom my sister danced. An appearance was scheduled for 2011, which was a huge success! We have kept up close ties with Mr. Moretti ever since.
When we conceived the idea of presenting a Verdi exhibition, it was entirely natural for us to ask Mr. Moretti to help us with this project, as a leading Italian opera specialist and a man of great sensitivity and intelligence. Upon hearing of our plans, he immediately shared his enthusiasm, accepting our invitation to serve as the exhibition’s coordinator. It is thanks to his efforts that we are able to present such an exceptional collection of objects relating to Verdi. Without Franco Moretti’s invaluable assistance, this exhibition would never have taken the impressive shape it has today.
Co-Founder, Éléphant Paname
Two hundred years after his birth, Giuseppe Verdi remains the most frequently performed opera composer in the world: just in the last five years, more than 2,500 performances of his masterpieces have been given in the world’s opera houses. This lasting appeal amply attests to the great vitality of this Italian genius, now celebrated in Paris with a major bicentenary exhibition at Éléphant Paname, an event that of course pays tribute to his operas, but also to the man who lived many of the most important moments of his life in Paris.
“Verdi at Éléphant Paname” will also honour the composer’s birthday on 10 October, along with the rest of the world, although Verdi himself was not sure of the exact date of his birth. He first saw the light of day in Le Roncole, a small village near Busseto in the Duchy of Parma, at the time under French rule. “L’Italiano”, as the conductor Riccardo Muti calls Verdi in the title of a recent book devoted to the composer, was thus born a citizen of France, as is clear from the baptism certificate held at Busseto town hall and presented in the exhibition.
A small town located in the southern portion of the beautifully verdant Po valley, Busseto always held an important place in Verdi’s heart. It was sufficiently close to Milan, which along with Paris was home to a temple of opera in the nineteenth century, a century that Verdi saw through to its conclusion, drawing his last breath not far from La Scala on 27 January 1901.
Early in his career, Verdi often dreamed of staging his operas in Paris, for he knew that if his talent were to be recognised by the audiences of the Opéra, he would have a permanent place in the Mount Olympus of music. Nevertheless, throughout his life he retained a certain mistrust, or fear perhaps, of the French capital’s cultural circles and fashionable salons. And it was this world that Verdi, inspired by Dumas, would depict in La Traviata, the most Parisian of his operas, first performed at the Teatro la Fenice in Venice. Jérusalem would be his first work for the Paris stage, an opera presented as entirely new although it was in fact an adaptation of I Lombardi[JS1] . This production, and those to follow, earned Verdi a strong following in France and soon he would be decorated with the Légion d’Honneur. He brandishes its cross with great pride in the portrait from around 1870, also shown in the exhibition (graciously loaned by the Amici di Verdi in Busseto).
Paris marked a major turning point in Verdi’s life. Although he had planned to make only a short visit, in order to see to the successful conclusion of his business arrangements and sign contracts, in the end Verdi stayed much longer in a city that, if his letters are to be believed, he did not care for too much. Within the Ricordi archives, we find numerous letters written by Verdi to his Italian publisher (some of which are included in the exhibition, thanks to the support of Pier Luigi Ledda) to explain his delays and speak of his plans to return home soon. In actual fact, at this same time in Paris, Verdi fell in love with the woman who would become his second wife, also serving as a skilled intermediary and the composer’s most trusted advocate for the remainder of his career, the soprano Giuseppina Strepponi, who after a career of crowning achievements, was then a successful singing teacher for high-society ladies in Paris.
Verdi’s stay in Paris was interrupted by the vicissitudes of history. Inspired by the Risorgimento uprisings, and in particular by the “Five Days” of Milan, he decided to return to his adopted city and live out his days as a patriot. It was not by chance that during the uprisings chasing the Austrians from their city, Milanese audience members forced Austrian officers from their seats in La Scala’s orchestra section with cries of “Viva VERDI!”, whose hidden political meaning, well known by both the oppressed and their oppressors, was “Long live Vittorio Emanuele, Re D’Italia”, the rallying cry for the independent kingdom of Italy that was to be formed just a few years later with assistance from the French, among others, all lending their precious support to this Turin-born Savoy king, a prime mover in the unification of the peninsula. When I reflect on these tumultuous years, I cannot help but wonder how much more difficult, compared to today, it would have been to convey emotions and passions from the stage that, outside the theatre, did not bring to mind some virtual or digital world, but clearly related to movements playing out in the streets and squares surrounding the very theatre itself.
This exhibition, organised by the Fondazione Festival Pucciniano, is made possible thanks to the support of leading institutions that, in the name of Verdi, work to raise awareness of the history of opera. We thus wish to acknowledge the assistance of the Carrara-Verdi family, heirs to the composer’s estate, who live year-round in parts of the magnificent villa that Verdi had built on his own farmland in Sant’Agata just outside Busseto, where he lived from 1824. Among this town’s cultural institutions, we express our warm gratitude to the Museo di Casa Barezzi and the Biblioteca del Monte di Pietà. We also wish to thank the Teatro Regio di Parma which, apart from its acclaimed seasonal programming, also organises the Festival Verdi each year; the Fondazione Cariparma; the Teatro alla Scala and Professor Corrado Mingardi. We urge you to visit Verdi’s native region to discover ancient traditions and (why not?) thrill your taste buds by savouring the culinary delights that the composer speaks of so often in his letters. Over the years, exhibitions dedicated to opera have emerged as one of the most effective introductions to this unique and unusual theatrical genre, especially for young people and all those who do not regularly attend performances of these works.
An opera, whether by Verdi, Puccini or any other composer, combines several arts – music, recitation, dance, painting – that ultimately merge to create a magical moment in the theatre, this same magic that fascinated Parisian audiences in Verdi’s time and that I hope will continue to fascinate those of today, in particular thanks to this lively exhibition, which would not have been possible were it not for the intuition and passion of Laurent Fiat, Fanny Fiat and their entire team at Éléphant Paname.
General Manager, Fondazione Festival Pucciniano
Franco Moretti has previously organised, promoted and coordinated a number of major exhibitions, in collaboration with Ricordi, including “Nessun Dorma! The Opera Art Exhibition”, presented at the opera houses of Beijing and Canton
ÉLÉPHANT PANAME ART AND DANCE CENTER OPENED 7 DAYS A WEEK, EXHIBITIONS TUESDAY TO SUNDAY 11:00AM-7:00PM, THURSDAYS TILL