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Roncole II: A Verdi Festival in a Dialogue with China

By Liliana Gorini
August 2016

Flavio Tabanelli/MoviSol
Left to right: Ishchenco Vsevolod (bass), Zhang Yi (soprano), Liu Ling (soprano), Natalia Margarit (soprano), Claudia Zucconi (pianist), Maestro Silvano Frontalini, Rino Matafù (tenor).
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The Schiller Institute and MoviSol, the LaRouche political association in Italy, attended the second annual Roncole Festival, held from July 19 to July 30, 2016, where Verdi arias, duets and scenes were performed in the Verdi tuning (A=432 Hz). The Festival was held in the Roncole, where the great Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi was born, in 1813, and also Salsomaggiore Terme, where Verdi used to spend his vacation.

This year, the Festival was organized under the concept of the “Dialogue of Cultures,” thanks to a project of cooperation between Maestro Silvano Frontalini, Conductor and Artistic Director of the Festival, and the Chinese Conservatory of Chengdu. This fruitful collaboration, which has begun with sopranos Liu Ling and Zhang Yi singing at these concerts, will continue on New Year’s Day, when the orchestra of the Chengdu Conservatory will perform in Florence, in the Piazza della Signoria. In return, China has invited again Maestro Frontalini to conduct an all Italian Turandot in China in two years.

Flavio Tabanelli/MoviSol
Maestro Silvano Frontalini.

As Maestro Frontalini and the two Chinese sopranos told the Schiller Institute in the following interviews, this cooperation was the key to continue the Verdi Festival at the Verdi Tuning, which otherwise received no support from the Italian state or from the local municipalities. Italian opera is very important to China, and while Europe and Italy are forgetting their own cultural heritage, China is picking up that baton. As Schiller Institute Founder Helga Zepp-LaRouche suggested at the recent T20 conference in Bejing recently, Chinese investment in Classical culture and education, as well as in great infrastructure projects, sets an example which Italy and Europe should follow.

The following interviews were granted on July 20, 2016 to the Schiller Institute representatives there, Carlos Valdivieso, who interviewed Maestro Silvano Frontalini, and to Flavio Tabanelli, who conducted the interview with Liu Ling and Zhang Yi, the two Chinese sopranos who sang Verdi aria and duets at the Festival.

Interview with Maestro Silvano Frontalini of the Roncole Festival

Carlos Valdivieso interviewed Maestro Silvano Frontalini, Conductor and Artistic Director of the Roncole Festival during the 2016 Roncole Festival.

Carlos Valdivieso: Maestro Frontalini, how did the cooperation with the Chengdu Conservatory start and how is it proceeding?

Maestro Frontalini: In November 2015 I conducted the orchestra of the Chengdu Conservatory of Music. I was very impressed by the musical preparation of the Chinese. It was my first time in China. A great orchestra. When I went for the first time to rehearse with it, I felt like at the dress rehearsal in Italy, or with a Russian or Italian orchestra: they knew the pieces perfectly. They gave me two singers, for the opera arias of Verdi, and they are the two sopranos I invited to the Roncole Festival. I invited them to Italy and the cooperation started and produced a project which will include a concert of the Chengdu Conservatory, with 70 orchestra members, in Florence, in piazza della Signoria, on Dec. 31st of this year, under the Landi Loggia. The next day they will play in the theatre of Milanollo di Savigliano (CN) and they will give some other concerts after that […]

Flavio Tabanelli/MoviSol
Rino Matafù (tenor) and Natalia Margarit (soprano)
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It took three months for them to sign the contract, because all expenses (1200 Euro per person, for the trip) are payed by the Chinese state, not at the national level but at the regional level. Chengdu has 14 million inhabitants, the Sinchin region 92 million. There was a delay in signing the agreement for a simple reason: Chinese law demands anti-corruption controls.

They come to Italy in order to become known in the fatherland of opera music. And an exchange with Chinese culture is good for us too, and not only for economic reasons. I have discovered that from culturally they are at an excellent level.

We have three other projects: to bring here the traditional Chinese opera, which is different from our opera. It’s made of dancers, jugglers, with a simple plot, based on a phantasmagoric subject. An Italian audience gets tired after ten minutes, but for them is like our Verdi.

The Chinese state pays everything. We just have to find the theatres.

The other project is Puccini’s Turandot in China, in the next two years. A project like this costs around 1 million Euro, with seven, eight performances. The State pays all. A bit like it used to be in Italy many years ago, when the State still supported culture.

Carlos Valdivieso: Since China and Russia (for example the concert in Palmyra) are promoting classical culture, how do you see the attitude of the Italian government and the European Union in financing culture?

Maestro Frontalini: The little money invested by Italy in culture is invested badly, in the form of political patronage, aimed at gaining consensus and votes. When Renzi says: "I give you an Euro for defense and an Euro for culture", I would like to ask him: "which culture? The one of football stadiums, of juke box, or the culture of opera and classical music?" We are governed by a principle which is called "do ut des" (qui pro quo), by people who if you talk to them about Verdi tuning they do not even know what it is, they are not interested, They ask. "Does Verdi tuning produce money? No, then leave me alone ".

Carlos Valdivieso: Let’s talk about A= 432 Hz. How was it received, last year and this year, by the audience?

Maestro Frontalini: Unfortunately the level of understanding is very low. It is important for a "visionary" like me and a few others. Verdi demanded A=432 Hz in 1884? Then we should try to do it. Very few people supported me in this, besides the Schiller Institute and Movisol.

Carlos Valdivieso: How about the singers?

Maestro Frontalini: They were very happy, but now we have to solve the problem of wind instruments. This year we performed with a piano tuned to A=432 Hz. You have to invest in order to find oboes, bassoons and flutes tuned to A=432 Hz. If you lower the tuning of a modern flute, the high notes will be off tune. We should find flutes which were built in 1800. We have to build an orchestra in the Verdi tuning, it’s a big investment, but it can be done, and we have to have musicians who know this tuning.

Carlos Valdivieso: Was it a problem also for the violins?

Maestro Frontalini: The violin can get to A=432 Hz, as all string instruments. Also trumpets, trombones and horns, since they have a coulisse which can be shortened. The problem comes with the oboe and bassoon, and the main obstacle we found last year was in the flute. But these problems can be solved. Verdi had that legislation adopted in 1884 precisely for this reason. He knew that the human voice is the standard, it is nature given. Tuning was raised because of the Nazi bands, who played at A=442-444, it was a kind of psychological drug. I am not an expert, but some say that Verdi tuning has therapeutic effects.


Interview with Sopranos Liu Ling and Zhang Yi

The following interview was granted to Flavio Tabanelli at the 2016 Roncole Festival

Flavio Tabanelli:  The Schiller Institute is working for a dialogue among cultures. After listening to the concert tonight, I have two questions for you. The first is: how do you see our classical culture, the tradition of belcanto, from the standpoint of Chinese culture?

Flavio Tabanelli/MoviSol
Zhang Yi (soprano).
Flavio Tabanelli/MoviSol
Liu Ling (soprano).

Liu Ling: When I was a little girl, I used to listen to a lot of European classical music, for example Puccini’s aria Oh mio babbino caro, from the opera Butterfly, Bizet’s Carmen…I wondered how could music be so fascinating. I liked it. I listened for the first time to Mozart sung by Mirella Freni. How wonderful! It was a bit strange, since I was still a little girl. But it was magical, moving. It was as if I had listened to it before I was born. God has something to do with it: in my heart I felt his power.

Flavio Tabanelli: In singing?

Liu Ling: Also listening to opera music.

Flavio Tabanelli: Did you have an education in the Chinese classical culture? Are you able to compare the two traditions, the western and Chinese one?

Zhang Yi: They are too different: the melody is different, the system of notes, how emotions are represented. In China we tried to use European operas in terms of classical singing and adapt it to the Chinese technique, but it was just a try …

Flavio Tabanelli: At the end of June in Berlin we had a concert, in the context of our international conference, which was a musical dialogue of cultures. This is why I am asking your these questions. Is there a convergence between the two cultures?

Zhang Yi: Are you asking if it is important to share? It’s difficult to say. I have to think about it. (…) Many in China study Italian opera. They love music, as much as we do. There is this encounter. Music is a dialogue.

Flavio Tabanelli: Other features are necessary. For example, when you sing in Italian you have to know what you are singing. 

Liu Ling and Zhang Yi: You know the meaning, Chinese listeners and viewers have to first study the story, before they come to the opera to listen.

Flavio Tabanelli: Here is the last question: we say that the Italian language is musical in itself, more than English, Dutch, German etc. How is it for you to sing in Italian, is it easier than German or other languages, including Chinese?

Liu Ling and Zhang Yi: Yes, Italian is easier.

Flavio Tabanelli: Also in respect to Chinese?

Liu Ling and Zhang Yi: Yes.

Flavio Tabanelli: It's interesting…

Liu Ling and Zhang Yi: In Chinese ideograms are assembled, but each character has a different pronunciation. You have to put aside the tones of vocals in order to sing the melody. In Italian, you do not have to do it. Then, we do not have the rolled r. We have to study it.…