Ludwig von Beethoven: Fantasy for piano, vocal soloists, mixed chorus, and orchestra, Op. 80 (Choral Fantasy)
Ludwig von Beethoven: Symphony No. 7 in A Major, Op. 92
Orchestra e Coro del Teatro Verdi
LaFil - Filarmonica di Milano
Conductor: Marco Seco
Alessandro Taverna: Piano
With my multi-stop Italo-French trek wrapped up and my social calendar pretty much cleared, I settled happily for an entire month in the unusually multi-cultural and serenely beautiful city of Trieste, blissfully tucked away from suffocating temperatures and even more suffocating mass tourism, except for the occasional mammoth cruise ship. And while the capital of the autonomous region of Friuli Venezia Giulia may not have the same endless supply of cultural sights, institutions and events as larger cosmopolitan cities, its extraordinary past and dynamic present have no problem keeping locals and visitors busy.
Fact is, my summer here has already been quite eventful since last week we experienced the effects of the wildfires that were raging in the nearby Corsa Mountains as they brought the Internet down for several hours one evening, caused power outages, and reduced the air quality to “extremely poor” for a couple of days. And then, just as life was getting back to normal, fierce thunderstorms made hot water unavailable for a few hours one morning.
Among all these climate change-related challenges, I was cheered up by a short visit from my Neapolitan friend Vittorio, who is prospecting Trieste as a possibility for retirement, and the closing concert of the Società dei Concerti di Trieste’s Progetto Beethoven summer series, whose serendipitously timing would bring us together at the iconic Teatro Verdi. On top of it, the program featured the 7th symphony, whose heart-melting Allegretto has always been a favorite of mine.
And then, last Sunday evening, after yet another decadent meal at the Caffè degli Specchi, which has rapidly become my go-to spot in town, and a quick look at the dazzling sunset over the Adriatic at the end of the stunning Piazza Unità d’Italia, we were making our way to the opera house when we momentarily found ourselves in the middle of an admittedly rather civilized anti-vax protest on Piazza Verdi. Did I mention that there is never a dull moment in Trieste?
Once inside the intimate and attractive space though, we quickly forgot the outside agitators and reveled in the good fortune of having a premium box all to ourselves instead. Although the theater was surprisingly far from being full—Apparently people had better things to do on a sultry Sunday evening—the mood was festive, and the couple of opening speeches by officials, who kept on effusively thanking everyone they could think of, went well.
When show-time finally arrived, the Filarmonica di Milano’s musicians joined forces with the Teatro Verdi’s musicians for Beethoven’s glorious Leonore Overture No. 3. The composer spent an inordinate amount of time writing no fewer than four overtures for his one and only opera, Fidelio, and he allegedly rejected the third one because he found it too grand. Luckily for the rest of us, it was rescued from oblivion and is now part of Beethoven’s legacy. Efficiently condensed at roughly a quarter of an hour, the Leonore Overture No. 3 may for all purposes be considered a well-rounded CliffNotes version of the opera, and the orchestra gamely went through the plot’s dramatic twists and turns all the way to the happy ending.
It is always fun to discover unsuspected works by familiar composers, and that’s what Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy was to me when I first saw it on the program. Later on, as the orchestra was playing it with precision and fervor, and more than a little help from the Teatro Verdi’s choir and a handful of soloists, I could not help but think of the universally popular Ode to Joy of his 9th symphony. The big difference, however, was the ubiquitous presence of a piano soloist on Sunday evening, an essential and demanding part of the composition that, for the occasion, was assertively fulfilled by the brilliant Alessandro Taverna.
Even better, he responded to our enthusiastic applause with another superb performance of some variations by Max Reger on a theme by Telemann this time, which made our jaws drop even lower. This young virtuoso is already in high demand in Europe, and if he keeps it up, the world will no doubt be next.
After the intermission, we were more than ready for Beethoven’s 7th symphony, and I was thrilled that after having reconnected with the joys of opera and recitals lately, I was finally getting an opportunity to dive into a big, lush and exhilarating symphony, which has also incidentally found its place in music history for leveraging the best of the Classical past while resolutely looking toward the Romantic future. Maestro Marco Seco, who also happens to be the artistic director of the Società dei Concerti di Trieste, led the musicians into a spontaneously engaging performance that superbly highlighted the many facets, from joyful dances to solemn marches to the high-speed Finale, of the action-packed journey. There is never a dull moment with Beethoven either.