IAF Chairman’s Remarks at the Verdi at Carnegie Concert

IAF Chairman Steve Acunto
IAF Chairman Steve Acunto

My dear friends: ambassadors, consuls, dignitaries, leaders of the Italian and Italian American community, on behalf of the Italian Academy Foundation, now in our 64th year,  I wish to welcome you all and to thank you for braving what was billed earlier today as a possible Nor’easter….although it has yet to rain!

May I begin straightway by expressing our genuine thanks to The Consul General of Italy in New York, Natalia Quintavalle, and Deputy Consul, Lucia Pasqualini, and their colleagues who have collaborated with us from the very beginning; to ENI, Italy’s great energy organization, sponsor of the Cameristi’s World Tour, whose latest slogan bespeaks ENI’s motivation: “diamo all energia, un energia nuova” (“We give new energy to energy”). Thank you, ENI; to Mr. Peter Klein of UBS, President of the Claire Friedlander Family Foundation; Mr. Gerald Rupp, Chairman, The Eccola! Foundation; to Ludovica Rossi Purini, founder of The Compagnia per la Musica of Rome and to the Vento public relations firm.

Thank you all.

There are so many dignitaries in the audience this evening – leaders from so many sectors – that I would risk your patient attention if I were to recognize you all individually. I was thinking of buying a big mirror and asking everyone to stand and applaud yourselves and your beautiful presence, but the union here at Carnegie Hall allows only hand held devices.

Ladies and gentlemen, tonight’s Concert came together one morning over a coffee at the Consulate as Natalia, Lucia and I sat to plan a kind of Birthday Party for Verdi – I think it was Joe Sciame’s idea, to start with. In any case, we wanted to do something different, given the scores of celebrations set for this month on radio –WQXR’s Verdi week- at opera houses and concert halls across the country; there was even an outdoor march and singing party over on Broadway and a Verdi tee shirt.

Make it different; make it new.

By happy coincidence, we learned that the Cameristi della Scala had created a unique programmme and had set a world tour, including Washington..and so we agreed to secure New York as a stop on their tour. It began to be realized through the effort of our dear friend and a principal in the realization of tonight’s concert, the Consul General of Italy in New York, Natalia Quintavalle. Please welcome her to the podium with your applause.

“Many Minded” is how Homer, Virgilio, Dante, Goethe and Shakespeare have been described; “Many Minded”, it is the poet William Butler Yeats’ expression, for the incredible variety, depth and scope of their work.

We may confidently apply that same epithet to Verdi: “Many Minded”, a quality that will be in evidence this evening.

The great Master of Parma achieved a variety and depth, much like that of a Shakespeare, and of Victor Hugo, Friedrich Schiller and the other geniuses whose works were seminal to Verdi’s libretti and to his inspiration.

Tonight we celebrate the 200th anniversary – to the very day – of Verdi’s birth. For the better part of the past 200 years, ever increasingly, Verdi’s music has become part of our listening vocabulary, part of our spiritual rhythm and an unmistakable part of popular culture. It is no accident that music from Italian opera, particularly Verdi, Puccini and Rossini, has worked its way into movie sound tracks, popular music “knock offs”, TV themes and even the raucous world of advertising. A recent example is the Verdi soundtrack to Woody Allen’s film Matchpoint.

It is partly for that reason that we decided, in organizing this concert, to present the Cameristi della Scala’s programme of orchestral fantasies and fresh realizations of Verdi’s music, rather than the somewhat predictable format of the “most popular arias”, followed as is customary with a grand quartet offering the Brindisi from Traviata. We genuinely hope that, if this is what you were expecting, you will prize nonetheless the Cameristi’s approach for its freshness, its rethinking of Verdi and, we believe, its sheer creativity. Familiar themes will prove “newly familiar”.

Our 2013 Bravo! awardee for this evening is a man whose artistic prowess and whose vision has informed much of what we appreciate in the theatre, on the silver screen and in opera houses across the world, especially for Verdi’s masterpieces. That man is the legendary Academy Award nominee, visionary director of stage, screen and opera, and great exponent of Italianità across the globe,

Franco Zeffirelli.

Franco who turned 90 this year could not be here with us this evening to receive the Bravo! Award and our much merited applause. Let me assure you, however, that, although he is suffering physically, he is no less active intellectually. Last week, my daughter, Claudia, and I visited with him in Rome where we discussed tonight’s programme and the newly planned Zeffirelli International Center for the Performing Arts in Florence, much of whose space will be devoted to his work on the operas of Verdi. After deciding he could not make it, Franco asked me to read his letter:


zeff-letter2Dear Friend:

May I thank you and ask you to express a message of friendship and affectionate sentiment for your initiative and the 2013 Bravo! Award to you and your collaborators.

Given the quickening passage of time it has become impossible for me to be with you on this happiest occasion marking the New York visit of my friends from La Scala, with whom I have had a marvelous series of artistic experiences always with the greatest success.

Recalling again our warm history and magnificent experiences together in Rome and in New York, I would like to thank American audiences profoundly from my heart for having given me such extraordinary successes and such extraordinary experiences during my long career in America.

Franco Zeffirelli


Ladies and gentlemen, let tonight’s concert, honoring the towering figure of Giuseppe Verdi, recall as well the genius of Franco Zeffirelli, for whose return to good health we pray.

And, now, with your applause, let us welcome the Cameristi della Scala and ring out an enthusiastic “Viva Verdi!

Thank you.

S Acunto


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