This last Friday night at seven o’ clock I took my seat to listen to some classical music by Giuseppe Verdi who now is celebrated since it is 200 years since his birth on October 10th 1813. Malmoe Symphony Orchestra had the other day invited me and my course mates to this concert, which pleased me greatly. I love music, most kinds of music, even if not all. Classical music by composers like Verdi, Mozart, Beethoven, Bizet, Strauss, Smetana and many others appeal to certain sides of my musical being, while I also love for example rock n’ roll, pop, disco, R n’ B, soul, jazz, some hip hop tunes, ethnic pop and certain kinds of folk music. Different kinds of music lure out different sides of me, and give me various kinds of pleasure. It was a very nice gesture by Malmoe Symphony Orchestra to invite us and the concert salon at Malmoe Concert Hall was almost completely filled with people who had come to enjoy the beautiful music. We were sitting far back in the audience, high up among the crowd of spectators and had a great view of the stage. The musicians entered the stage along with the conductor, Marc Soustrot from France. He was born in Lyon by parents who both were opera singers. Marc Soustrot is the chief conductor of Malmoe Symphony Orchestra, but has a good renommé in wide circles in his business. He’s also conducting other orchestras such as the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra in Germany, English Chamber Orchestra, Gothenburg Symphonics in west Sweden, DR Symphony Orchestra in Copenhagen, Denmark, as well as a number of other orchestras in Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and France. Also Opera Houses in Sevilla and Madrid in Spain have been visited by Marc Soustrot for his splendid conducting. He is continously striving in his profession to combine a balance between the older, more traditional repertoir with pieces from our present days.
The evening was presented by actress, musical artist, director and opera singer Marianne Mörck. She’s a lady who has done much in her long career. She came to Malmoe City Theatre, our day’s Malmoe Opera in 1977 and stayed there until 2003. She has had many leading roles in her musical career and performed roles like Eliza in My Fair Lady, Maja Gräddnos in Pelle Svanslös, Sally Bowles in Cabaret, Maria in Sound of Music, (I saw her in that role) and Giovanna in Rigoletto by Giueseppe Verdi. For her part in Molière’s Knowledgeable Women she recieved the Thalia Stipendium, and for the role as Fina-Kajsa in Kristina from Duvemåla the private theatre prize the Golden Mask as well as in 2002 Malmoe Municipality’s Culture Prize. Marianne Mörck came onto the stage with relaxed dignity and it was evident that she is used to being on stage after 35 years on it. She did a good job presenting Giuseppe Verdi’s life for us, the musical pieces and the two performing singers, the Chinese tenor Yinjia Gong and the soprano Erika Sunnegårdh. Yinjia Gong was born in Sichuan, China, and got an interest in music very early on. His maternal grandfather had been performing in the Peking Opera. First Yinjia studied Chinese popular music at the Sichuan Conservatory he then became more interested in western opera. Eventually he ended up here in Sweden, studied at Malmoe Music University in 2008 and won an award for young singers in 2009. This young talent then studied in Stockholm for a Master Degree. He has sung parts like Rodolfo in La Bohème, Luigi in Puccini’s Il Tabarro, Alfredo in La Traviata, Riccardo in the Masque Ball and Macduff in Macbeth. Since the autumn of 2013 Yinija’s working at the Opera in Regensburg in Germany. Erika Sunnegårdh made her opera debut in 2004 as the title role in Turandot by Puccini at the Malmoe Opera. In 2005 Erika made a solo performance during the Nobel Prize Festivities in Stockholm. The year after she made her international break-through as Leonora in Fidelio at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. She recieved standing ovations and was hailed to the skies for her performance. She has performed at Carnegie Hall, Oper Frankfurt, Deutsche Oper Berlin, Grand Théatre du Genève, in Tokyo, Canadian Opera, Glyndbourne, Wiener Staatsoper, Kungliga Operan in Stockholm and Malmö Opera.
Why were we at the Concert Hall two nights ago? On October 10th 1813 a tiny boy was born in Le Roncole, near Busseto between the cities of Parma and Milano in what would be known as Italy. What we now know as Italy wasn’t united yet, but consisted of several city states competing and fighting with each other, but also invaded and occupied in part and different periods by the French and Austrian armies. When Verdi was born the land was controlled by the French and the boy given the names Joseph Fortunin Francois Verdi, but the person wearing the names never used the French versions. Instead he used just as we do Giuseppe Fortunio Francesco Verdi. At the age of two in 1815 the province where Giuseppe lived was given to the Austrians, but when he died on January 27th 1901 after his 88 year life Italy had become a united realm, even if the regional differences still exist as in many other countries. Giuseppe Verdi composed 28 operas between 1836 and 1893. He was a proud Italian patriot and he became famous for his work, but he was also plagued by not always being understood by the surroundings. He was asked to rearrange and rewrite several of his pieces, and not all of his operas became equally successful. The demands in Milano and in Paris varied, because Giuseppe Verdi was working on both places.
Verdi had a romantic relationship with the famous opera singer Giuseppina Strepponi, called the Jewel of Italian Opera. Lots of gossip were spread about them and they lived together for nine years before they got married in 1857. The intense romance with Giuseppina Strepponi inspired Verdi to a couple of marvellous operas in 1853, Il Trovattore/The Troubadour, (an opera I saw performed by Italian singers in Tunis, North Africa once). Il Trovattore was shown on Swedish TV2 yesterday evening. That year, 1853, Giuseppe Verdi also wrote La Traviata/The Misguided. It is based on the novel the Camelia Lady by Alexandre Dumas. These operas are full of life and passion, a combination of hot feelings, romance, tragedy and comedy. Two years earlier Verdi had composed Rigoletto where the court jester Rigoletto helps his master the count to seduce young women whom the count then murders after having had his fun. Rigoletto looks on, participates and laughs. He also has a beautiful daughter whom he tries to hide from his master, but the count naturally meets her, seduces her and kills the young woman. Unknowingly Rigoletto helps the count preparing it and notices who has been killed too late. Beautiful music, but a horrible story. I personally once more ponder upon why humanity is so cruel, and why psychopathic maniacs with a lust to mutilate and kill tend to be glorified so often, while our humanity actually needs the opposite. In Rigoletto the count sings the famous aria “La donna e mobile”/The woman is promiscous. The question is what we are attracted to, why, what we see in others and what we encourage. At about the same time as Verdi wrote Rigoletto in 1851 his mother died, and regretting that he had neglected his parents Giuseppe Verdi returned to his childhood area. In 1867 he bought the farm Sant ‘Agate, which would remain his residence where he could gain strength.
The pieces performed during the concert were in the first half before the break: “La Forza del Destino”, uverture, “Tu che le vánita” from Don Carlos, prelude to La Traviata, “Lunge da lei – De’ miei bollenti spiriti” from La Traviata, “Parigi, o cara noi lasceremo” from La Traviata, “Tacea la notte placida” from Il Trovattore and then sinfonia with the Hebrew prisoners’ choir from Nabucco.
During the paus we all went out in the upper lobby to stretch our legs, mingle, maybe have something to drink and I talked a bit with a Chinese violin player from the orchestra and his wife. Very nice couple. The pictures you see to this text were taken during that break. Since it’s not allowed to take photos during the performance inside the sallon you won’t see anything from the concert itself, and in normal cases I wouldn’t have brought my camera at all to a performance like this, but I had been to seminar with book presentations just before the concert and for that reason had the camera with me.
After the break we could listen to the prelude to “I vespri siciliani”, prelude to “Rigoletto”, “La donna e mobile” from Rigoletto, prelude to “Aida”, “Celeste Aida” from Aida, the balett from Aida and finally “Pur ti riveggo mia dolce Aida”. The orchestra did a splendid job led by the eminent Marc Sustrout. Erika Sunnegårdh and Yinjia Gong both had marvellous voices and it requires enormous training and technique for singing like that. We have to keep in mind that the technique to gather the strength from the stomach and up to reach out with the voice was developed during the 1600’s when the first Italian and French operas were made and opera singing art as such. Jean Baptiste Lully and his comperatives in the 1600’s had to compose for singers who would sing without microphones for large audiences. The heyday for operas and operettes however were in the 1700’s and 1800’s. During the 20th century until today the music scene has developed further as we all know: music hall, musicals, vaudeville, modern operas, and more modern music styles.
At the end of the concert the orchestra, the conductor, the two singers and Marianne Mörck recieved standing ovations which is the finest compliment you can get in situations like these. As an encore we got yet another piece and while we still were standing up in the audience Marianne Mörck asked us to participate in some singing. The lyrics to the Swedish translation of the Hebrew prisoners’ choir from Nabucco was written in the programme. The Italian audience had when the opera was written read into it a resistance against the French and Austrian influences and themselves as the people who ought to be liberated, which they did during the 19th century. We all stood there singing the text to the famous melody: “Fly my thought on golden wings! Fly and land on green turfs! There from flowers and maturing grapes, rises the lovely fragrance from Mother Earth. Greet Jordan, the sacred river and Jerusalem’s smoke-dark peaks… Oh, our homeland, the most precious gem, is just a memory of ash and dust! You, the prophet’s golden lyre which hang soundless and doesn’t reach our ear. Let the memory touch the strings and tell us of the days of glory… Let our woe guide your tones, sing about the destiny which will separate us! Then preach the will of the Eternal: Soon Israel will again live in peace. Soon Israel will again live in peace. Soon Israel will again live in peace. Yes, in freedom and peace”.
The concert was marvellous and I left Malmoe Concert Hall that Friday night with a smile on my lips. The music can be a source of inspiration, a way to unite or separate. We can only hope that something good will come out of the struggle we have for sustainability, dignity and a precious humanity in these again troubled times. I for one will surely struggle on. What will you do?
Anders Moberg, October 27th 2013