Since the last major visit of the New York Philharmonic to Italy, 20 years ago, much has changed, evolved, and gloriously endured. Next month's tour‹the 2006 Tour of Italy, led by Music Director Lorin Maazel and sponsored by Generali, Italy's leading insurance company‹extends from June 8 to 20, and includes returns to Rome, Florence, and Milan, as well as first-time visits to Parma, Ravenna, and Trieste. The Orchestra will also cross the Adriatic to Slovenia for just one night to give a concert in Ljubljana, that country's capital.
The Philharmonic's itinerary begins with three concerts in the new performing arts center in the Eternal City. Rome's Parco della Musica opened in 2003, and contains three auditoriums of different sizes, scaled to accommodate stage works, full symphonic performances, and chamber music. The complex was designed by the renowned Italian architect Renzo Piano who, clearly inspired, has said: "The most beautiful adventure is to build a space for music." The auditoriums, adjacent to the grounds of the historic Villa Glori, are each shaped like a lute, and are set amongst hundreds of olive trees. This being Rome, in addition to rehearsal facilities and a gallery of musical instruments, there is also a museum of fourth-century artifacts, which were discovered onsite during the Parco's construction.
From Rome, the Philharmonic travels north to Florence, where it will perform at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, which is observing its 69th season. The venerable festival, which runs from May to July, shares a significant link with the Orchestra: its artistic director, Zubin Mehta, served as the Philharmonic's Music Director from 1978 to 1991 and led the Orchestra's last Italian tour in 1985.
The program in Rome and Florence features works by Brahms, Kodály, and Berlioz. At its next stop‹Milan's Teatro alla Scala‹the New York Philharmonic will continue its celebration of the 250th anniversary of Mozart's birthday with a performance of his final symphony, No. 41, "Jupiter," paired with Mahler's First Symphony. The setting is historically appropriate: as a teenager, Mozart wrote his opera Mitridate, re di Ponto for the Teatro Regio Ducale, the predecessor of today's opera house. The world-famous venue reopened in December 2004 after a three-year renovation, to great acclaim and reports that the acoustics are better than ever.
The Orchestra will repeat the Mozart and Mahler program at its next stop, Parma, where it will also serve up a local specialty, the music of Verdi, on its second program. Parma is in most ways the heart of Verdi country. The composer was born in the nearby village of Busseto, and the villa at Sant'Agata where he lived and worked is only a couple of kilometers away. Accordingly, on its June 16 concert at the Teatro Regio di Parma, the Philharmonic will offer the overtures from Verdi's I vespri siciliani and La forza del destino, as well as selections from Il corsaro, La traviata, and I lombardi alla prima crociata with soprano Mariella Devia in her New York Philharmonic debut. The program opens with Berlioz's Harold in Italy, with soloist Cynthia Phelps, the Philharmonic's PrincipalViola.
Parma will be followed by two concerts at Ravenna's Palazzo Mauro de André. While typically the Music Director conducts all the concerts on a tour, Ravenna will be an exception. Here, because of the great friendship between Riccardo Muti and the Philharmonic, Lorin Maazel has invited him to lead one program, of Schumann and Tchaikovsky, on June 18.
For its last two concerts on the tour the Orchestra will travel to the Adriatic coast, first to Ljubljana, Slovenia, and then back to the Italian city of Trieste, where the final notes of the tour will ring out at the Teatro Lirico "Giuseppe Verdi."
The musicians are looking forward to sharing their music with Italian audiences. Speaking for them is Music Director Lorin Maazel: "It is a particular joy to be bringing the New York Philharmonic to Italy, the cradle of so much of the world's great music and a country I consider a second home. Italian audiences are passionate about music, and I know they are going to love this Orchestra as much as I do."
Mario Mercado is arts editor at Travel + Leisure and author of The Evolution of Mozart's Pianistic Style.