Beniamino Gigli at Spoleto in September 1932 and August 1939 – The report on the dailies and periodicals of the time
The relationship between Spoleto and Beniamino Gigli – one of the most beloved and popular 20th-century tenors, international ambassador of Italian bel canto and melodrama – has always been special and very close, in the name of mutual affection, sympathy and friendship.
Thanks to some local newspapers and magazines kept at the Carducci city library, the story of the first performances of Beniamino Gigli in Spoletocan be reconsrtucted. For the column ‘Long Ago In Spoleto’, we have chosen to privilege the chronicle of Gigli’s first two concerts in the city, in September 1932 and August 1939, using the pages of the local edition of the “Messaggero” and those of “Alta Spoleto”, the weekly magazine of the Pro Loco Spoleto.
Gigli and Adriano Belli were friends; Belli was a lawyer and refined Roman musicologist born from a Spoletan mother, an assiduous frequenter and deus ex machina of Spoleto’s cultural life, so much to found there in 1947 the Experimental Lyric Theater; he succeeded in bringing the prodigious voice of the great tenor in Spoleto. The occasion was destined to arouse great clamor, as shown by the many articles that announced the great event and that feverishly followed the preparation of the concert. The exhibition of Gigli in Spoleto, for the festivities for the just established Spoletan Summer, will be a premiere for Umbria.
In the edition of June 15, 1932, “Il Messaggero” gives news of the agreement sealed the day before in Rome, and after citing an old promise that Gigli had made, the newspaper speaks of momentous circumstances. Upon rigorous inspection, the tenor himself choose the venue for the concert, that had been organized for charity. The articles highlighted the complexity of the organizational machine, to offer a show up to the prestigious guest. The podestà organized his connections and obtained special quotes for the trains that were to bring many fans from the neighboring regions. “L’Alta Spoleto” of July 3 specified that the concert would benefit the mountain colony on Monteluco and dedicated some biographical notes to Gigli.
An “extraordinary feast of art and worldliness” was being prepared, as announced by Messaggero on July 5th, confirming the availability of a train from Rome that would stop in Spoleto for the duration of the concert, to allow the fans to attend the event and then immediately leave again. On July 6th “Il Messaggero” gives another good news: Gigli would not be alone on stage. After the triumphs at La Scala, to excite the audience in Spoleto, soprano Maria Caniglia was added to the program. On July 7, “Messaggero” confirms Piazza Duomo as the venue; the certainty arises that the enormous resonance generated by the show will result in a huge turnout, so special arrangements had to be planned to regulate the entrances and parking of cars.
In the meantime, in an unstoppable crescendo, the articles were almost overlapping, swollen with enthusiasm: 3,000 seats are arranged in Piazza Duomo, a piazza that was to be illuminated by 1,000 electric lamps; tickets went like hot cakes; Niny Giani’s voice is added to the program. Suddenly, a few days before the concert, the great disappointment: Gigli has to forfeit because of an indisposition, a slight ailment occurred on him while singing in Lanciano. Podestà Spinelli is reached by Gigli’s telegram, that announces a new date: “Deeply saddened by the sudden setback I beg you to communicate to the nice citizen of Spoleto that I will be present on Sunday, September 18 to fulfill the commitment, dear to my heart, that I took with you, honourable podestà, and with my friend Belli“.
Talks about the great September concert followed relentlessly; “Il Messaggero” went after the developments almost daily: on September 8th, it was announced that the sale of tickets had resumed, that the special trains had been confirmed, that car services had been added, that groups from all over Umbria, Rome, and Florence were expected. The artistic cast had changed: Margherita Carosio, Marina Selivanova and baritone Armando Dadò were now expected to duet with Gigli. Special traffic regulations were introduced, “car parks” were prepared for the huge public and the seats in the square rose to over 4,000. the Minister Ciano granted a 50% off on trains from Spoleto to Ancona, Rome, Rieti and Terontola. The printing house of Umbria came out with a special issue dedicated to Gigli, who, coming from his Villa in Porto Recanati, was expected to arrive in Spoleto by car and be hosted at the Hotel Tordelli, in Corso Mazzini together with his daughter and his wife. The concert is a triumph: “a resounding success” titled “Il Messaggero”, “a festival of singing, a feast of people”, says the “Alta Spoleto”. After the exalting experience, Gigli sends this telegram to express his satisfaction, and a wish: “Moved and grateful for the unforgettable affection demonstrated, pleased by the magnificent, perfect organization, I send you all my greetings, eager to return soon among you.”
The same exciting atmosphere was recorded in 1939 when Gigli – who went often to Spoleto to greet the city and meet his friends, as shown by a couple of articles of the “Alta Spoleto” of the period – is the protagonist of a second great musical event: on the occasion of the opera season, organized by the tireless lawyer Belli, in the program of the “Estate Spoletina”, a triple performance of “Lucia di Lammermoor” at the Teatro Nuovo is scheduled on August 12, 13 and 15. The voice of Gigli was scheduled to be heard on 13th August, a charity evening in favor of the summer colonies of the Italian Youth of the Lictor. In the weekly publication by the Pro Loco of August 12th, a dense biographical profile of the tenor is traced, the noble civism of Eloisa Marignoli entertaining Gigli in its palace is praised, it is announced that a plaque will be discovered in the atrium of the theater to remember the event and that a dinner was going to be prepared in his honor at the Albergo della Ferrovia.
The report of the evening, swollen with superlatives and by the jubilant tone, appeared in the August 19th issue of “Alta Spoleto”, with many photographs immortalizing Gigli in San Giacomo, while arriving in Spoleto, during a card game in Monteluco and while being acclaimed at the Teatro Nuovo. Beniamino Gigli would often return to Spoleto. The love between the city and the tenor would continue to flourish over the years with unchanged favor. Spoleto has named the tree-lined square in front of the Teatro Nuovo after him, a perfect recognition of his stature as an artist, next to one of the most prestigious temples of opera singing.
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