Teatro Comunale di Bologna: An Italian Musical Landmark

May 6, 2016

Poster announcing performances by Solistas de Mexico, Teatro Comunale di Bologna
Credit James Baker

If you listen to much opera you have surely run across performances from Teatro Comunale di Bologna. Located in the city of Bologna, Italy, the theater is in many ways the cultural heart of the city. The current theater was not the first opera house in Bologna; previous houses faded due to disuse, or in other instances burned to the ground. That was the fate of the theater which preceded the present day Teatro Comunale. In 1745, Teatro Malvezzi (constructed in 1651) burned down. It was replaced 18 years later, in 1763, by the present day Teatro Comunale di Bolgna.

 

Bologna's earlier opera houses had hosted many important performances, including important operas by Vivaldi, Gluck, and Niccolò Piccinni. Teatro Comunale attracted equally prestigious composers and their music. Twenty of Gioacchino Rossini's operas were performed there, and seven of Vincenzo Bellini's ten operas were presented in the 1830s. The house also gave important performances of Giuseppe Verdi's works and was chosen to present the Italian premiere of Richard Wagner's Lohengrin in 1871. Another major figure associated with the Teatro Comunale di Bologna was Arturo Toscanini. The Maestro was active in Bologna beginning in 1894 and continued to work there until the beginning of World War II.

Solistas de Mexico, 1986

In the Fall of 1992 the Mexican based ensemble Solistas de Mexico, a group of musicians hand picked by conductor Eduardo Mata, made a brief European tour which included concerts in Germany, Italy and Spain. I was privileged to be part of the ensemble. That tour was one of the highlights of my professional career as an orchestra musician. I played French horn in the group of about 25 musicians. (That's me, 2nd from the left, standing, in the photo.)

Germany was certainly an interesting part of the tour, but the highlight for me came later, when we arrived in the very old city of Bologna. I was stunned by the 

City of Bologna, Italy, from the city's most prominent tower, Asinelli Tower. The tower was built in the 11th Century, and is the highest in all of Italy.
Credit James Baker

  patina of the city's architecture, especially impressive from the top of the Asinelli Tower. But perhaps more impressive for a musician was the privilege of performing in the Teatro Comunale di Bologna. Yes, it was old, dusty here and there, showing both its age and its character. But on the other hand you could sense the spirit of musicians and music past, and that is something which stays with you long after you pack up after the final concert and walk out the door.

Today, when I see a performance by the Orchestra del Teatro Comunale di Bologna, I think not only of the music being made in that particular performance, almost always Grand Opera, but also of the grand experience my colleagues and I had playing in that space music by Antonio Sarrier, Aaron Copland, and Manuel de Falla. It is a memory I will savor for the rest of my life.