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Italian music night in Saigon
Bradley Winterton
Friday,  Nov 3, 2017,14:24 (GMT+7)

Italian music night in Saigon

Bradley Winterton

For hundreds of years Italy was synonymous with music. The indications of the speed at which music should be played – lento, adagio, presto, etc. - were always in Italian. Mozart, though a German speaker and living in what is now Austria, wrote his most important operas in Italian, and as a young man he went to Italy to study music. Handel, a German living in England, wrote many of his operas in Italian, even though his London audiences were probably unable to understand it.

Italy consisted of many different states until it was unified in 1870. But that didn’t make any difference, and it may have actually helped as every state had its own opera house, music conservatory and the like. It was only in the 19th century when the rising tide of nationalism led to more and more operas being written in Czech, Russian and so on that the dominance of Italy was challenged. But not seriously – Bellini, Donizetti, Rossini, Verdi and Puccini continued to see that Italy remained firmly in the public eye.

There had always been works written in, particularly, French and German, but Italy remained supreme. Those speed indicators are still, to this day, written in Italian, and indeed are referred to by musicians by the Italian word tempi (times, or speeds).

So A Night of Italian Music in the Saigon Opera House (November 8) is both welcome and unsurprising. It consists of one long and terrifyingly intimidating work, and many short items – arias, overtures and the like.
The tradition of a composer of a concerto playing the solo part himself goes back a long way – Mozart certainly did it for both piano and violin, improvising brilliantly, so we are told. But when a generation later Niccolo Paganini wrote his fiendishly difficult Violin Concerto No: 1 he intended to show his outstanding technical brilliance above all else. It takes the breath away, and was meant to.

Pham Vinh has had plenty of experience – he appeared at the same venue last year playing Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto, and I considered then that he injected passion into a work that can sound over-sweet. No one takes this Paganini concerto lightly, and it will be fascinating indeed to hear how Pham Vinh, who lives in France but is of Vietnamese descent, treats it. He’s an eminent guest and has a strong following here.

Rossini features prominently in the rest of the program. People used to think of him only as a composer of light-weight comic operas, failing to realize that Verdi worshipped him and originally planned his Requiem in his memory. Even so, it’s his comic opera Il barbiere di Siviglia (The Barber of Seville) that will dominate on Wednesday, with three items out of four taken from it.

Puccini will also be prominent, with the much-loved Humming Chorus from Madama Butterfly performed by the HBSO Choir and ‘O mio babbino caro’ (O my beloved father) from Gianni Schicchi, normally a solo, performed here by the Saigon Ladies Singers. The Act One duet ‘O soave fanciulla’ (O sweet girl) from La Boheme will be sung by soprano Cho Hae Ryong and tenor Ta Minh Tam.

Donizetti also features, with two arias from Don Pasquale, another comic opera, as do Tosti and Gastaldon.
All in all this will be a rich evening, melodious in the second half and astonishing in the first. The conductor will be the HBSO’s Managing and Artistic Director, Tran Vuong Thach.

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