The New Year’s Concert at La Fenice theatre in Venice is a spectacular, prestigious international event that proves the power music has to bring people together. Its unifying aspect is an idea cherished by
Daniel Harding, the brilliant young maestro who conducted the Fenice choir and orchestra, as well as two major opera stars.
When I enter an Italian theatre I always experience a special thrill inside, because this is us. Our theatres are us. They talk about us, about our great personalities, our history, perhaps about the best part of us, Italians.
Talking to Musica, he recalled his first time in the Lagoon City: “Venice was the first city I ever travelled to outside of England. People tell you how beautiful it is, how special it is, [but] nothing prepares you for what you see when you come here. It is the most appallingly seductive place! And every time I come I say ‘I have to come back here sometime and just have a week with nothing to do, just explore the city even better…’ And one day I will!”
La Fenica’s special appeal is evoked by another of the performers at the New Year’s event, soprano Maria Agresta:
“This theatre has the taste of history, the flavour of the old times, it’s the essence of our identity. When I enter an Italian theatre I always experience a special thrill inside, because this is us, our theatres are us, they talk about us, about our great personalities, our history, perhaps about the best part of us, Italians.”
It may be a privilege to sing in such exalted venues but Agresta’s fellow performer, tenor Matthiew Polenzani,
reminds us that opera stars are only human: “Who I am as a person is a bigger thing than who I am as a singer. So when I’m sick I cancel [the show]. If another singer thinks ‘I have to be absolutely quiet the day before a show, and the day after the show I cannot talk”, ok, do whatever you have to do to give the best quality performance you can give. I have small children, being quiet the day before or after the show is impossible, sometimes you have to yell at your children… that’s just a part of life! I try hard to be just as normal a guy as I can be.”
However, once they step onto the boards of a hall such as La Fenice, a transformation occurs in these ‘normal guys’, according to Daniel Harding.
“All of us, through our lives, we experience things inside us that we can’t understand, we can’t explain, and we don’t know how to share,” he says. “And when you see that, or when you hear that, when you feel that reflected in music, you understand immediately that somebody else has been there as well. And the other people who listen and identify with the music you realize that they also know, and this is the important thing: music lets us know that we are not alone.”